This will be a difficult task as this study has been done by some of the greatest brains on the planet. I am sure I will not do it justice so the best thing for readers to do will be to go to the original work through this link.
But, in case you do not feel moved to do so, I’ll have a go at presenting my own take on the subject:
TEEB is an independent, global study launched by the European Commission to produce a report on the economics of biodiversity loss. It aimed to bring together expertise from all regions of the world in the fields of science, economics and policy to enable actions to be taken in response to the impact of the loss of biodiversity.
The key point that this study brings out is something that we should all know, that conservationists have been stressing for decades but which everyone, in practice, simply tries to ignore. Our ecosystems, biodiversity and natural resources underpin our economies, societies and our individual well-being. There is no escaping from it – the environment is the system; economies and societies are sub-systems relying totally on the environment. To be sustainable, sub-systems must not damage the systems on which they depend. But at the moment they do. This will change.
The value of our natural environment’s myriad benefits are overlooked and poorly understood. They are rarely taken fully into account in normal economics or in day to day decision making. Loss of forests, soils, wetlands, coral reefs, fisheries, etc etc are all often economically invisible. We are running down our natural capital stock without understanding the value of what we are loosing.
Part of the study showed that the economic loss from degraded forest ecosystems alone (and they probably only measured the easy bits) is far greater than the financial losses the world experienced in the worst part of the recent global credit crunch.
The degradation of soils, air, water and biological resources can negatively impact on public health, food security, consumer choice and business opportunities. Furthermore, the rural poor are often most directly reliant on natural resources and are often the hardest hit. (Nature conservation is not just a hobby for the rich).
Our current economic model is letting us down. It is only capable of valuing some things and only in the present, whereas to make sensible decisions we need to consider everything that the environment provides now and in the future.
Maybe if I make up a Mickey Mouse example it may help make the point.
Let’s take the South Downs. Without intervention, the only economic benefit would be intensive agriculture. The only thing we can value is food. Divergence from this might be seen as “artificial interference”, a promotion of “inefficient farming” or just an emotional desire. In practice, however, food is just one of the services that we get from the South Downs, but perhaps the only one that we put a “£” sign against. However, the South Downs also provides clean water for people to drink, it has soils which hold carbon and cycle nutrients, it supports species that help with pollination; good management prevents flooding, controls erosion, maintains soils; the landscape attracts tourists, provides recreation and maintains our sense of place and well-being. And many other things as well. Many of these other services are simply not considered in any valuing exercise. These values, however, are very real. Indeed, when you look at the complexity of what a landscape provides, using it only to provide food in the short term must be considered a very inefficient use of land.
So you get to one of the TEEB conclusions – when you do the sums, the benefits you get from a natural area are worth 10 to 100 times more than the cost of protecting it. And we haven’t even mentioned the higher ethical reasons for conserving nature.
This highlights key messages for the Natural Environment White Paper:
Maintaining nature is a basic need.
Its economic value is orders of magnitude greater than the short term gains from destroying it.
You can’t protect nature by just treating it as a special interest.
We need to alter our economic model so nature’s fundamental importance is given primacy.