The Economics of Biodiversity

published in MEUSAC News : Issue No.1

distrubuted with The Times : Saturday January 10, 2009


by Carmel Cacopardo – AD representative on the MEUSAC Core Group







Gary Strobel based at Montana State University in the United States is continuously on the go. Searching in rainforests he discovered a small red fungus which is capable of converting cellulose to hydrocarbon fuel, similar to diesel. Given that millions of tonnes of plant waste are produced each year this discovery, already patented, has great potential. The Patagonian fungus Gliocladium roseum has in fact been described as the “diesel that grows on trees”.


We live in a world which tends to ignore non-monetary value. This is the underlying reason for the general failure to appreciate the importance of ecology. In fact to some it is incomprehensible that we live in an eco-system and not in an economy ! To try and remedy this myopic approach the EU (directly as well as through the Member States)  has been trying to quantify the economic value of biodiversity.


In May 2008 a report drawn up by Ireland’s Department of the Environment  entitled Benefits and Costs of Biodiversity in Ireland concluded that biodiversity contributes  services worth not less than €2.6 billion per annum. 


In August 2008 the EU in conjunction with the German Federal Ministry for the Environment published a report entitled The Economics of Eco-systems and Biodiversity. An Interim Report. Pavan Sukhdev, study leader of the EU report emphasised that “we are still struggling to find the value of nature”. This struggle is reflected in the observed degradation of ecosystems and the loss of biodiversity.


Notwithstanding the stop-gap nature of the 14th Climate Change Conference at Pozdan, still in process at the time of writing, one of the proposals being intensively discussed is the concept of “avoided deforestation” also known by its acronym REDD (Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation). It is estimated that failure to halt deforestation could increase the climate change bill by $1 trillion annually by the year 2100.


Conservation and sustainable use of forests in the developing world could thus be part of a carbon emissions trading scheme. Yet the proposal is not without its critics. The Global Forest Coalition, a coalition of NGOs and indigenous peoples’ organisations considers the REDD initiative as premature. Will this be another privatisation of resources, a carbon colonialisation? The way forward has still to be detailed, but surely it must be based on the role of indigenous people who should be further encouraged to develop their traditional knowledge, cultural diversity and biodiversity within their territories.


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