New Report Makes Economic Case for Repairing the Natural World

3 June 2010—Restoring lost and damaged ecosystems—from forests and freshwaters to mangroves and wetlands—can trigger multi-million dollar returns, generate jobs and combat poverty according to a new report compiled by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).

Launched on the eve of World Environment Day (WED), the report draws on thousands of ecosystem restoration projects world-wide and showcases over 30 initiatives that are transforming the lives of communities and countries across the globe.

The report, entitled Dead Planet, Living Planet: Biodiversity and Ecosystem Restoration for Sustainable Development, underlines that far from being a tax on growth and development, many environmental investments in degraded, nature-based assets can generate substantial and multiple returns.

Speaking at the report launch in Kigali, Rwanda, Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director, said: “The ecological infrastructure of the planet is generating services to humanity worth by some estimates over $70 trillion a year, perhaps substantially more. In the past these services have been invisible or near invisible in national and international accounts. This should and must change”.

“This report is aimed at bringing two fundamental messages to governments, communities and citizens on World Environment Day and in 2010—the UN’s International Year of Biodiversity. Namely that mismanagement of natural and nature-based assets is under cutting development on a scale that dwarfs the recent economic crisis,” he said.

“Two: that well-planned investments and re-investments in the restoration of these vast, natural and nature-based utilities not only has a high rate of return. But will be central, if not fundamental,  to sustainability in a world of rising aspirations, populations, incomes and demands on the Earth’s natural resources,” said Mr. Steiner who was in Kigali, Rwanda the main host for this year’s global WED events.

The report underlines that conserving existing ecosystems is far cheaper than restoration.
Effective conservation, such as that practised in many National Parks and protected areas may cost from a few tens of dollars to a few hundred dollars per hectare.
However, protected areas cover only 13 per cent, 6 per cent and less than 1 per cent of the planet’s land, coastal and ocean areas.
Many important ecosystems fall outside these areas. Restoration costs may be ten times higher than managing existing ecosystems, but still something of a bargain considering the returns in terms of restored nature-based services.
Indeed the report says that compared to loss of ecosystem services, well-planned restorations may provide cost benefit ratios of 3‑75 in terms of return on investment.

Initial studies compiled by TEEB indicate that restoration of grasslands, woodlands and forests offer some of the highest rates of returns.

  • The Turkish city of Istanbul has increased the number of people served with wastewater treatment over 20 years from a few hundred thousand to over nine million—95 per cent of the population—by rehabilitating and cleaning river banks, relocating polluting industries, installing water treatment works and re-establishing river-side vegetation.
  • In Vietnam, planting and protecting nearly 12,000 hectares of mangroves has cost just over $1 million but saved annual expenditure on dyke maintenance of well over $7 million.
  • In Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda, strict law enforcement, costing the lives of over 190 rangers, has helped restore the critically endangered mountain gorilla population back to a slight increase in the Virungas National Park – and is generating large revenues from tourism.
  • Restoration of over 500 hectares of mangroves in India’s Andhra Pradesh region has cost $3 million over seven years but has increased the population of edible crabs and fodder for livestock thereby boosting local incomes while increasing biodiversity such as otter and birds.
  • Coastal ecosystems in Biscayne Bay, Florida have been restored for annual benefit worth $1.7 million.
  • Banning unsustainable fishing methods; re-introductions of native fish species and re-planting of native aquatic grasses have transformed the once highly polluted and degraded Lake Hong in China.
  • Since 2003, water quality has improved dramatically, rare birds like the Oriental White Stork have returned after 20 years and fisher folk have seen incomes triple.
  • $5.50 higher than the national average.

Under the UN’s climate agreements, countries are moving to pay developing nations to conserve rather than fell forests.
Known as Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation, this could lead to an estimated halving of deforestation rates by 2030.

  • By some estimates this could cut global greenhouse gas emissions by 1.5‑2.7 billion tons annually at a cost of just over $17 billion to $33 billion per year, but with a long-term benefit estimated at $3.7 trillion in present value terms.
  • Under the Scolel Te Project in Mexico, some 700 farmers in 40 communities have planted over 700 hectares of trees on degraded land to sequester carbon receiving tens of thousands of dollars from the carbon offset markets—which in this case is linked with offsetting Formula One racing and the World Rally Championship.

For more information, please contact
Nick Nuttall, UNEP Spokesperson/Head of Media, on Tel +254 20 7623084, Mobile +254 733 632755 E-mail: nick.nuttall@unep.org

Anne-France White, Associate Information Officer, on Tel: +254 20 762 3088, Mobile: +254 (0)728 600 494, or e-mail: anne-france.white@unep.org

Biodiversity and Ecosystem Restoration for Sustainable Development By Nick Nuttall - UNEP SPokesperson

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