First global estimation of biodiversity benefits and ecosystem service flows from habitats to humans, finds flows valued at $1 trillion USD per year to poor communities, potential for additional half trillion
Washington, DC — Protecting the land of highest priority for
biodiversity conservation also delivers significant, life-sustaining services
and income to the world's most impoverished people, according to a new study
published this month in the journal, BioScience. Yet conservation
efforts and poverty alleviation efforts are both at risk of failing, since this
'natural capital' is grossly undervalued in the global marketplace.
The ground-breaking study, Global Biodiversity Conservation and the
Alleviation of Poverty, was led by a team from Conservation International,
and co-authored by scientists at NatureServe, National Fish and Wildlife
Foundation, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
The scientists analyzed the value of benefits the world's poorest people
receive from priority areas for biodiversity conservation. They assessed a broad
range of 'ecosystem services', the benefits people receive from natural habitats
— from local benefits including crop pollination, foods, medicines, and clean,
fresh water, to global benefits such as climate regulation.
Dr. Will Turner, lead author and Vice President for Conservation
International, emphasized the strong correlations his team discovered,
showing the high value of effectively managing the stocks of natural capital to
ease poverty: the world's top conservation priorities (less than a quarter of
Earth's land surface) provide over half (56-57 percent) of the world's
ecosystem service value, directly supporting the world's poorest people, who
generally struggle to survive on less than one dollar a day.
"What the research clearly tells us is that conserving the world's remaining
biodiversity isn't just a moral imperative; it is a necessary investment for
lasting economic development. But in many places where the poor depend on these
natural services, we are dangerously close to exhausting them, resulting in
lasting poverty," said Turner.
The study also found that when all 17 ecosystem services they examined are
totaled, the benefits of these areas are more than triple (326 percent)
the costs of conserving them.
"We have always known that biodiversity is foundational to human well-being,
but we now have a strong case that ecosystems specifically located in the
world's biodiversity hotspots and high-biodiversity wilderness areas also
provide a vital safety net for people living in poverty", said Dr.
Russell Mittermeier, President of Conservation International and a co-author of
the paper. "Protecting these places is essential not only to safeguard
life on earth but also to support the impoverished, ensure continued broad
access to nature's services, and meet the U.N. Millennium Development
The scientists analyzed four different scenarios for the links between
biodiversity conservation and human poverty:
- Potential ecosystem services, the range of services that nature
provides whether or not people use them
- Realized ecosystem services, which are directly available to local,
downstream or global populations
- Essential services, representing the immediate and critical
benefits available to poor individuals (wood for shelter, water for drinking,
- Essential services with transfers, or those which compensate local
stewards of natural resources with market or incentive mechanisms.
In the last scenario — transfers of benefits from ecosystem services — the
researchers reported that markets and other financial mechanisms that provide
compensation to local populations who take on the responsibility of protecting
and sustainably managing nature at its source (such as Payments for Ecosystem
Services or Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation) have
the potential to provide a 50 percent increase in benefits to poor communities,
delivering up to an additional half trillion USD per year to the people who need
To put this in context, the scientists calculated that if the value generated
by ecosystem services to local people were distributed effectively and
equitably, it would exceed $1 per-person per-day for nearly one-third of the
world's poorest people (331 million of an estimated 1.1 billion living in
"Developed and developing economies cannot continue to ask the world's poor
to shoulder the burden of protecting these globally important ecosystem services
for the rest of the world's benefit, without compensation in return," added
Turner. "This is exactly what we mean when talk about valuing natural capital.
Nature may not send us a bill, but its essential services and flows, both direct
and indirect, have concrete economic value."
Co-author Dr. Claude Gascon, Executive Vice President of the National
Fish and Wildlife Foundation said, "This paper clearly shows that the
natural world provides huge benefits to humanity by contributing to the well
being of local and global communities. Moreover, areas of high biodiversity
importance are disproportionately critical in providing these benefits and
should therefore be a high priority for protection."
"The study also demonstrates that the collection of biodiversity data yields
great benefit," said Tom Brooks, Chief Scientist at
NatureServe, "Not only in guiding conservation in its own right, but
also — when analyzed alongside socio-economic datasetsm — in informing policy
across the board."
Addressing gaps that still remain in the science, Turner added, "Is natural
capital alone sufficient to alleviate poverty? The answer is no. Our existing
information of the value of ecosystem services is grossly insufficient, and we
have much work ahead of us to quantify these services. But the magnitude of
synergies between priority biodiversity conservation areas and poverty
alleviation goals is so large, that we really must work on them together."
Mittermeier concluded, "We have learned a lot in understanding how ecosystem
services flow to people, but in many ways, the world's economic compass is
broken: we are undervaluing and overspending our planet's natural capital. That
is why it is so important for decision-makers to integrate conservation of
nature as a critical component of economic and poverty-alleviation policies this
For more information about the methodology or specific findings of this
research, download the full text of the paper here: http://www.aibs.org/bioscience-press-releases
Conservation International (CI) — Building upon a strong
foundation of science, partnership and field demonstration, CI empowers
societies to responsibly and sustainably care for nature, our global
biodiversity, for the long term well-being of people. Founded in 1987 and
marking its 25th anniversary in 2012, CI has headquarters in the Washington DC
area, and 900 employees working in nearly 30 countries on four continents, plus
1,000+ partners around the world. For more information, please visit at www.conservation.org , or on Facebook or Twitter.
NatureServe — NatureServe is a non-profit conservation
organization whose mission is to provide the scientific basis for effective
conservation action. NatureServe represents an international network of
biological inventories-known as natural heritage programs or conservation data
centers-operating in all 50 U.S. states, Canada, Latin America and the
Caribbean. The objective scientific information about species and ecosystems
developed by NatureServe is used by all sectors of society-conservation groups,
government agencies, corporations, academia, and the public-to make informed
decisions about managing our natural resources. For more information, please
visit at www.natureserve.org
National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) — The National
Fish and Wildlife Foundation is made up of 80 professional staff in four offices
across the country: Washington, D.C.; St. Paul, MN; Portland, OR; and San
Francisco, CA.Our Board of Directors is made up of 30 members, all confirmed by
the White House. Learn more about the people at the National Fish and Wildlife
Foundation at: www.nfwf.org