Pavan Sukhdev: Biodiversity not a luxury for the rich but a necessity for the poor

By Tierney Smith

The value of biodiversity to the poor must be taken into account when measuring economic wealth, influential environmental economist Pavan Sukhdev has warned.

The economic value of ecosystem services – for example clean air, water, food and timber – has risen to prominence in recent years but the concept of natural capital should not just be for big corporations.

The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) programme, which Sukhdev leads, aims to build a compelling economic case for the conservation of ecosystems and biodiversity.

Sukhdev said the TEEB study underlines the importance of protecting biodiversity for the poorest communities around the world.

“If you lose nature it is the poor farmer whose fields suffer from a lack of nutrients and fresh water; it is the poor farmer’s wife who can not go and collect fuel wood from the forest and it is the farmer’s cattle and goats that can not go and feed on the leaf litter in the forest,” he said.

“When you start to account for the invisible and unaccountable services, which do not enter GDP, then you can understand the nature of the livelihoods of the poor.

“I think it underlines the underlying understanding we must have for biodiversity, which is that biodiversity is not merely a luxury for the rich, it is a necessity for the poor.”

The TEEB report highlights that for countries including India, Indonesia and Brazil poor, rural and forest communities all depend on biodiversity.

In India for example 350 million people live in households where 45% of the income was dependant on nature, while in Brazil 20 million people live with incomes 89% dependant on biodiversity.

He warned that a more inclusive way of measuring wealth must be found that takes into account natural, social and human wealth and acknowledges the role natural wealth has in driving development.

“You can not manage what you do not measure and unfortunately our accounts across all nations use a current system of national accounting that does not reflect the value of ecosystem services. It does not reflect the loss of this value, when we lose forests, when we lose wetlands and when we lose the quality of nature,” he said.

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