Who should value nature — new report by Dario Kenner

Dario Ken­ner (Why Green Econ­omy?) has pub­lished a new report enti­tled “Who should value nature? Sus­tain­able busi­ness ini­tia­tive — out­side insights”.

You can access the report online and find a pdf fol­low­ing: Kenner_2014_Who-should-value-nature. For more infor­ma­tion please see the related arti­cle and the exec­u­tive sum­mary below.

Exec­u­tive sum­mary

Do you know how to mea­sure the value of the fresh water you drink every day or the car­bon diox­ide cap­tured by the Ama­zon rain­for­est? Is it even pos­si­ble to cal­cu­late a mon­e­tary fig­ure for these things? And if nature is going to be val­ued across the world who should do it: accoun­tants, gov­ern­ments, com­pa­nies or communities?

Nat­ural cap­i­tal has been defined as ‘the world’s stocks of nat­ural assets which include geol­ogy, soil, air, water and all liv­ing things’.The logic behind the nat­ural cap­i­tal approach is that by plac­ing an eco­nomic value on nature (often mon­e­tary) we will start to pro­tect it. Instead of receiv­ing things like pol­li­na­tion and cli­mate reg­u­la­tion for ‘free’ we will fac­tor the environment’s value into our deci­sion mak­ing because we will know how much it’s ‘worth’.

But should we be doing this? Many of us can agree that nature has an intrin­sic value. Is it now time to go a step fur­ther and place an eco­nomic value on nature? Crit­ics say nature’s intrin­sic value is price­less and argue mon­e­tary val­u­a­tion will leave envi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion at the mercy of mar­ket forces as nature is traded and spec­u­lated on.

The big focus of cur­rent debates on nat­ural cap­i­tal is if we should value nature and how to do it. While these largely abstract debates are cru­cial there’s another ques­tion that is very rarely asked: who should value nature? As the exclu­sive inter­views in this report show this is an impor­tant ques­tion with no clear answers.

In try­ing to answer this ques­tion it’s use­ful to focus on who should value it in devel­op­ing coun­tries because this is where ideas on recog­nis­ing nature’s ‘worth’ are really going to be put to the test. In the global south biodiversity-rich land is under intense pres­sure to be con­verted for min­ing, oil and gas extrac­tion, log­ging, live­stock, plan­ta­tions, dams – the list goes on.

This momen­tum is only going to grow given that the vast major­ity of the world’s pop­u­la­tion lives in devel­op­ing coun­tries (where some groups are increas­ing their con­sump­tion), most of these coun­tries depend on the extrac­tion of raw mate­ri­als for eco­nomic growth, and many devel­oped coun­tries have out­sourced resources used for the prod­ucts they consume.

But try­ing to work out who should value nature in devel­op­ing coun­tries is com­pli­cated not least because land rights in many areas of rich bio­di­ver­sity are often heav­ily con­tested between states, indige­nous peo­ples, local com­mu­ni­ties, pri­vate firms and indi­vid­u­als. In Sub-Saharan Africa it’s esti­mated that around 90% of land is unti­tled, while across the global south min­eral, oil and gas, for­est and agri­cul­tural con­ces­sions often over­lap with indige­nous lands.

Cur­rently, it’s mainly expert bod­ies includ­ing con­sul­tan­cies, spe­cial­ist com­pa­nies, acad­e­mia and con­ser­va­tion NGOs who are valu­ing nat­ural cap­i­tal in devel­op­ing coun­tries, although gov­ern­ments are also becom­ing increas­ingly inter­ested. These expert bod­ies usu­ally focus on mon­e­tary val­u­a­tion because this is often what they have been asked to do. There is prob­a­bly also a ten­dency to believe that mon­e­tary val­ues will make a stronger busi­ness case to pro­tect the envi­ron­ment. Another fac­tor is the decision-making con­text which will deter­mine if eco­nomic val­u­a­tion is appro­pri­ate (see Appen­dix 2). It’s impor­tant to sig­nal there is as yet no con­sen­sus on how to do eco­nomic val­u­a­tion and this is why there are ini­tia­tives to har­monise methodologies.

Since who owns land in devel­op­ing coun­tries is not always clear, it’s impor­tant to explore how other actors like indige­nous peo­ples value nature. This is an impor­tant ques­tion because their ter­ri­to­ries are esti­mated to cover up to 24% of the world’s land sur­face and con­tain 80% of the earth’s remain­ing healthy ecosys­tems. Indige­nous peo­ples often already recog­nise non-monetary val­ues based on a spir­i­tual con­nec­tion to their ances­tral lands. For exam­ple, the Don­gria Kondh indige­nous com­mu­nity who live in the Niyam­giri hills in India suc­cess­fully resisted a planned baux­ite mine because of the spir­i­tual value they placed on the area – they referred to the hills as their God and soul. This is a dif­fer­ent approach that does not use com­plex eco­nomic mod­els to place mon­e­tary val­ues on nature. This dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive on recog­nis­ing nature’s value has led some indige­nous peo­ples to strongly reject the nat­ural cap­i­tal approach.

With the debate rag­ing fiercely on if nature should be val­ued it might seem bet­ter to post­pone the ques­tion of who val­ues for now. But because val­u­a­tion (whether non-monetary or mon­e­tary) might be under­taken dif­fer­ently by dif­fer­ent stake­hold­ers it’s cru­cial to think about how the process would play out in prac­tice (ie, whose val­ues would carry more weight?) as this directly informs cur­rent debates on whether and how it should hap­pen. For exam­ple try­ing to answer the ques­tion of who should value nature reveals it mat­ters which stake­hold­ers are valu­ing an area because the method­ol­ogy they choose to use (of which there are many) will influ­ence whether they place mon­e­tary or non-monetary val­ues on an area.

Recog­nis­ing there are diverse ways to value is impor­tant because con­tested land rights in the global south mean there are sce­nar­ios where dif­fer­ent actors in devel­op­ing coun­tries will value the same area of nature dif­fer­ently. As the list of actors push­ing for eco­nomic val­u­a­tion grows – includ­ing accoun­tants, con­sul­tancy firms, the pri­vate sec­tor, gov­ern­ments, envi­ron­men­tal NGOs, aca­d­e­mics, United Nations agen­cies, and inter­na­tional insti­tu­tions such as the World Bank – how do we decide who should do the valu­ing and whose val­ues are taken into account? Which stake­hold­ers have the power to limit val­u­a­tion to non-monetary val­ues or broaden it out to include mon­e­tary val­ues? Who has the power to deter­mine who has made the ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ calculation?




Who should value nature — new report by Dario Kenner — 1 Comment

  1. Pingback: (Last) Biodiversity Offsets Newsweek, December 8-31, 2014 - Biodiversity Offsets Blog

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