Experts concluding the global DIVERSITAS biodiversity conference in Cape Town described preliminary research revealing jaw-dropping dollar values of the "ecosystem services" of biomes like forests and coral reefs -- including food, pollution treatment and climate regulation.
Undertaken to help societies make better-informed choices, the economic research shows a single hectare of coral reef, for example, provides annual services to humans valued at US $130,000 on average, rising to as much as $1.2 million.
The work provides insights into the worth of ecosystems in human economic terms, says economist Pavan Sukhdev of UNEP, head of a Cambridge, England-based project called The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB).
Based on analysis of more than 80 coral reef valuation studies, the worth of services per hectare of coral reef breaks down as follows:
Taken together, coral reef services worldwide have an average annual value estimated at $172 billion, says Mr. Sukhdev.
He notes the growing scientific agreement that coral reefs are unlikely to survive if atmospheric carbon dioxide levels exceed 350 parts per million. Negotiators of a new climate change deal in Copenhagen in December, however, "would be proud" to achieve an agreement that limits atmospheric carbon to 450 parts per million, he says, calling that "a death sentence on the world's coral reefs."
Halving the destruction of tropical forests, meanwhile, would allow them to continue absorbing roughly 4.8 gigatonnes of carbon per year, slow the rise of atmospheric carbon levels and forestall anticipated climate change damage. Halving deforestation has a net present value estimated at $3.7 trillion, according to research.
The economic choice of turning such forests into timber or clearing them to make way for agriculture is "not very clever," says Mr. Sukhdev. "Stopping deforestation offers an excellent cost-benefit ratio."
"Investment in protected areas holds exceptional high returns," he says. Previous studies have shown that investing $45 billion "could secure nature-based services worth some $4.5 to 5.2 trillion annually." Among the specific examples cited: planting mangroves along a coastline in Vietnam cost $1.1 million but saved $ 7.3 million annually in dyke maintenance.
Examples of a rate of return on investments in ecosystem restoration:
TEEB is a UNEP-led project supported by the European Commission, German Federal Ministry for the Environment, and the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
Biodiversity and society: understanding connections, adapting to change.
Over 600 scientists attending the international 2nd Open Science Conference Oct. 13-16 hosted by DIVERSITAS, a Paris-based NGO, issued a concluding statement confirming that, "as we approach the 2010 Year of Biodiversity … the fabric out of which the Earth system is woven is unravelling at an accelerating rate."
"At the same time, we are discovering ever more about biodiversity and the benefits it provides to people. It is clear that biodiversity loss erodes the integrity of ecosystems and their capacity to adapt in a changing world. It represents a serious risk to human wellbeing and a squandering of current assets and future opportunities.
"The biodiversity scientists gathered here commit themselves to finding practical solutions to this problem. They will do so by: increasing shared knowledge of biodiversity and its functions; helping to develop systems for monitoring the biodiversity of the planet; and being responsive to the knowledge needs of society with clear communication of findings.
"The proposed mechanism for the ongoing evaluation and communication of scientific evidence on these issues is an Intergovernmental Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). We call on governments and non-governmental organisations to join us in establishing IPBES as soon as possible. We urge policy-makers to act swiftly and effectively on the already-established and future findings relating to ways of limiting further biodiversity loss and restoring ecosystem services."
"Meeting current and future human needs must make adequate provision for the complex web of life of which people are an integral part. People everywhere must give effect to their shared desire for a biologically-rich and productive planet through their individual decisions and political voices."
Growth of global pet trade risks health
Among dozens of conference presentations, US experts warned that the risk of importing diseases is rising in tandem with growth of the multi-billion dollar pet animal trade.
The US alone imports some 200 million such animals annually from 194 countries. Most were captured from the wild and most arrived from Southeast Asia, a hotspot incubator of emerging diseases.
A study lead by Katherine Smith of Brown University found just 13% of animal shipments allowed in were classified by species -- most were admitted with vague labels like "live vertebrate" or "fish," raising concerns about not just disease but potentially introducing invasive species that could harm native ecosystems, wildlife and domestic animals.
She estimated 2,241 non-native species were imported to the U.S. between 2000 and 2006 and says there have been 335 outbreaks of emerging infectious diseases since 1940, 75% of which had animal origins. Among the outbreaks: a 2003 US outbreak of monkeypox traced to African rodents imported for pets, SARS in 2002, West Nile Virus in 1999, smallpox in the 1500s and syphilis in the 1400s.
"The threat to public health is real, as the majority of emerging diseases come from wildlife," says Dr. Smith, who listed dozens of fevers, encephalitis, Leishmaniasis, and schistosomiasis among the health threats.
Just 100 inspectors at US borders are tasked with inspecting the shipments, she adds. From 2000 through 2006, the U.S. imported more than 1.5 billion live animals, roughly equal to five animals for every citizen.
Pet shops could face tighter restrictions if the controversial Nonnative Wildlife Invasion Prevention Act gets voted into law.
The researchers call for:
The conference concluded with a major plenary, chaired by leading expert Lijbert Brussaard, of Wageningen University, The Netherlands, on ways to reconcile the competing Millennium Development Goals of protecting biodiversity, reducing world hunger and alleviating poverty.
Among other measures, the experts called for a reduction in the estimated 30 to 40% of food lost through spoilage and waste.
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