Sep 27, 2010

Importance of Biodiversity

 Biodiversity is sadly recognition that plants and animals are allowed by man to continue their lives without threat of extinction either from man's direct actions or indirectly from climate change which must partially be attributed to man.

Since most humans do not think about these things on a daily basis and really accept as "for free" such actions by animals such as pollination, soil aeration, etc, if a price or recognition of what animals do for humans could be arrived on then humans might more dearly respect the animal and plant kingdoms ex human. Here's an article from the Economist on biodiversity

The latest brick in this wall is a report on biodiversity and business released at the Global Business of Biodiversity Symposium in London on July 13th. One of the themes of the report, and the conference it was launched at, is the recent trend for recasting debates about nature conservation in terms of “ecosystem services”—valuable things that nature does for which no one at the moment pays, such as providing fresh water, regenerating soil, insect pollinators and suchlike. This approach provides a mind set, and to some extent metrics, with which to measure both risks and opportunity, and thus could open up new ways for businesses to approach the environment.

And not just businesses. Such thinking also provides new ways for environmentalists to approach the environment. Peter Seligmann, the CEO of Conservation International, a large charity, told the London meeting about a recent change in emphasis by his organisation. Mr Seligmann says that, since the 1980s, Conservation International has helped preserve ecosystems on land and at sea covering about 2m square kilometres (500m acres, or about 100 times the size of Wales). But he increasingly thinks such protection is not enough: it merely stashes places in a “conservation pantry” from which they can be removed when the world gets sufficiently hungry for land or some other resource. So the organisation has redefined its mission in terms of ecosystems services: the job is now to support human well-being by maintaining and restoring ecosystems that provide essential services to people and society.

This change in emphasis, Mr Seligmann says, has not been as easy for people to agree on as he initially thought it would be. The point he returns to in explaining and justifying it is that it is not a matter of abandoning a core commitment to biodiversity; it is a way of making that commitment relevant. This relevance makes development, economic growth and industry central to the organisation’s issues.

Stuart Anstee, principal adviser on the environment to Rio Tinto, a mining company which makes much of taking biodiversity seriously, pointed to ways in which business might be better positioned to improve the natural world than NGOs are. He cited work by Paul Jepson and Richard Ladle of the University of Oxford that lists six advantages businesses enjoys over NGOs in the conservation arena. They have the capacity to plan things and commit to them for decades at a time; they often own a lot of land; they have better access to money and other resources; their economic role gives them greater influence on governance at various levels; they are subject to mechanisms of accountability, both in law and in the markets, which require them to assess and report their performance; and they have a wider appreciation of human resources. It is all too easy to imagine the hollow laughter some of this would draw from environmentalists dealing with resource-rich, landowning and influential companies of an unenlightened bent all around the world. But a company which can align its business goals with environmental improvements has plenty of leverage at its command.

It was not hard, wandering the halls of the symposium, to see a lot of green idealism dressed in business suits. If some of it was idealism with an eye to self-interest, no harm in that: it was, indeed, rather the point of the proceedings. As more than one person remarked, in a self-congratulatory but also truthful way, the very fact that such a meeting is going on demonstrates progress that few would have expected ten years ago. The level of ambition is increasing too, with various companies, including Rio Tinto, taking an approach which goes beyond not doing harm to having a “net positive impact”, and rhetoric moving beyond “sustainable development” to “restorative development”, a phrase with a pleasingly progressive, indeed dynamic, ring. The idea that the environment be not merely protected but improved will upset some conservationists; to others it is a natural corollary of aligning economic interests with ecosystem interests.

Some business executives have become believers, including some hugely influential ones—Mr Seligmann describes high-level conversions to his cause at Wal-Mart, the chair of which sits on the board of Conservation International. But not all business people take on a new environmental enthusiasm as a result of holidays diving on reefs, or their first encounters with grandchildren. And those who do will still face the problem that their investors will often not. A common theme of the summit’s discussions was that it is easier to enthuse people who run enterprises with the idea of blending business and biodiversity than it is the people who own them, and to whom they have a fiduciary duty.

The idea of turning an environmental benefit into a financial instrument with clear value has been tried in the carbon markets, but for biodiversity the issue is much more complex. Biodiversity is not fungible, as carbon is: its value is more like that of real estate than that of a commodity. And besides, though carbon markets do now exist, they have yet to demonstrate an ability to reduce emissions in a big way, and their large-scale expansion currently looks highly unlikely. Doing business in a way that takes environmental economics into account is a good idea; aping climate policy and its mechanisms is not. One measure of success for TEEB will be instigating a fuller discussion of alternative ways to realise the value of nature. And that is likely to take quite a long time.

from the Economist july14th 2010

1 comment:

  1. Great article. I'm pleased to see a reference to "restorative development": a phrase I introduced to the world with my 2002 book, The Restoration Economy.

    However, it should be pointed out that restorative development isn't just a "dynamic" or "progressive" way of saying the same old thing. Conservation, sustainability, and green development are what we should have been doing for the past 200 years.

    But we didn't, so now restorative development is our only hope for a future that's healthier, wealthier, and more beautiful. The good news is that restorative development is a powerful economic generator.

    Recent "restoration economy" reports from Oregon and Montana reveal economic activity that's 2-3 times the public investment in restoration, and up to 35 high-quality jobs per $1 million invested.

    The time has come for us to stop relying on antiquated tools to get us out of this global economic slump. Let's start growing our economy in a way that automatically improves both quality of life and environmental health.

    Those shouldn't be "fringe benefits": they should be part and parcel of wealth-creation, as documented in Rewealth (McGraw-Hill, 2008).