Unfortunately, too often we only pay attention to what is sold and bought in this world. This is also one of the main reasons why humans destroy at such a rate the planet on which they live and the other living species that surround them.
In the most recent and comprehensive portrait to date, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) reported last month that the world’s wild animal population has declined by 69% since 1970 and that one million species of plants and animals are now threatened with extinction. At the same time, about 10 million hectares of forest are being destroyed each year, the equivalent of the area of Portugal, and at the rate things are going, we are on the way to losing 99% of warm-water corals.
This catastrophe is more and more the result of global warming, but not only. It also stems from a mode of development which has enabled hundreds of millions of human beings to emerge from absolute poverty, but which does not take into account its impact on the nature that surrounds us and our existential link with she, observed last year the British economist Partha Dasgupta in a lengthy report. In particular, he noted that, while the overall standard of living of the human population (GDP per capita) doubled from 1992 to 2014, its “natural capital” per capita also plummeted by 40% during the same period.
But here we are, we only pay attention to what we value, and political and economic actors have the annoying habit of only considering “short-term profits and economic growth”. […] while the multiple values of nature are rarely taken into account”, said in a report this summer experts from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), often described as the IPCC for biodiversity.
The value of nature
A healthy planet, however, also has an economic value, if only by allowing its inhabitants to feed themselves, to benefit from an environment that does not make them sick and not to be washed away by floods or other natural disasters. IPCC experts tried two years ago, to estimate the value of all the services offered to humans by their environment. They cited one study that pegged it at US$125 trillion a year, while another established the cost of deforestation, soil depletion, desertification and other mistreatment of the land between 6300 and $10.6 trillion a year, more than five times the economic value produced by the entire agricultural sector.
In another study published in 2020, the World Economic Forum in Davos estimated that about half of the global economy, or $44 trillion, was moderately or heavily dependent on nature and “its services,” particularly in agriculture, construction, and food. It warned governments and businesses against the danger of underestimating their exposure to the economic consequences of environmental degradation. Like the analyzes on climate change, they spoke, among other things, of the danger of getting stuck with “stranded assets”, of getting embroiled in trade disputes and of not knowing how to adapt in time to investors and to consumers who are suddenly more sensitive to these issues.
Apparently having received and understood the message, a group of 330 companies and financial institutions from 52 countries, with combined revenues estimated at more than 1.5 trillion, last month launched a call to the countries participating in the 15e Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (COP15), which will be held from December 7 to 19 in Montreal. They want to force all major companies and financial institutions to disclose their impacts on biodiversity and their dependence on it by 2030 so that everyone can see more clearly.
more than dollars
However, it will be necessary to know how to go beyond the market value of nature to adequately reflect how the changes underway affect people’s quality of life, warned the IPBES experts.
They were talking about four general perspectives. Living from nature, which refers to our needs to find means of subsistence. Living with Nature, which emphasizes the right of other living species to continue to inhabit our planet. Living in nature, which refers to its place in people’s sense of belonging and identity. And, finally, living like nature, which “exemplifies the physical, mental and spiritual connection of human beings with nature”.
All this cannot always be expressed in dollars or in jobs created, indicated the IPBES. This requires — as is often the case when it comes to sustainable development — political and economic decision-makers to learn to take into account several indicators of different kinds and not always reconcilable.
Science does not leave them completely off guard, however, noted one of the co-directors of his report. “More than 50 approaches and methods for estimating values exist. There is therefore no shortage of means and tools to make the values of nature visible. However, when this estimation work is done, we almost never take its conclusions into account when making decisions.