US$125 trillion per year – that’s US$125 with 12 zero’s! That’s the latest estimate of the global value of ecosystem services that nature provides on an annual basis, estimated by Robert Costanza, a renowned ecological economist, and colleagues. To put this number in perspective, the 2016 global GDP is estimated to reach around US$76 trillion.
Ecosystem Services are the services that nature provides, and are typically not ascribed a monetary value (as they fall outside of natural markets). Examples of ecosystem services in agriculture include the pollination of crops by bees, and biological pest & disease control – all critical to productive agriculture and essentially ‘free’ services. While scientists may argue about the details of these estimates, the staggering scale of these numbers is useful for raising our understanding and awareness of the inherent value of natural capital to society as a whole.
Alarmingly, Costanza et al. also estimate that between 1997 and 2011, global land use changes resulted in an annual loss of ecosystem services of between $4.3 and $20.2 trillion. A pertinent question is how can we prevent further losses of this magnitude?
Determining a financial cost certainly helps, if not only to increase awareness and draw attention. Yet, we also need to acknowledge that at some level nature’s benefits defy a monetary value – after all, how do we value the cost of the earth losing its natural capacity to support modern human existence.
Either way, we require honest reflection on how we perceive, use and sustain the value of the natural capital humanity has been endowed with, and upon which we utterly depend.
A strong sustainability approach, one of Blue North’s core guiding concepts, sees natural capital as non-substitutable, recognizing that the economy and society must operate within the absolute limits of natural capital resources.
Guided by strong sustainability, securing a sustainable future demands that we understand the implications of operating in an ecologically-constrained reality. We must furthermore think carefully about how we act now in order ensure that the value of our ecosystem services and natural capital are not further eroded. An estimate of a value of $125 trillion certainly helps to highlight the reasons to protect our natural capital.
Robert Costanza, Rudolf de Groot, Paul Sutton, Sander van der Ploeg, Sharolyn J. Anderson, Ida Kubiszewski, Stephen Farber, R. Kerry Turner, Changes in the global value of ecosystem services, Global Environmental Change, Volume 26, May 2014, Pages 152-158, ISSN 0959-3780, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2014.04.002
Leon C. Braat, Rudolf de Groot, The ecosystem services agenda:bridging the worlds of natural science and economics, conservation and development, and public and private policy, Ecosystem Services, Volume 1, Issue 1, July 2012, Pages 4-15, ISSN 2212-0416, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ecoser.2012.07.011