Benefits of Protecting Nature Far Outweigh Investment Costs

© CI/Haroldo Castro

A major topic of discussion at the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) meeting currently underway in Hyderabad, India, is securing funding for the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, the 20 goals that aim to adequately protect our planet’s species and ecosystems by 2020. CI’s Carlos Manuel Rodriguez reflects on what achieving these goals might cost.

Last spring I was invited by the Secretariat of the CBD to join a panel tasked with the first-ever assessment of the resources needed to achieve the Aichi Targets — the most ambitious set of global targets to protect nature in history — by 2020. This panel was co-sponsored by the governments of the United Kingdom and India and chaired by CI Board Member Pavan Sukhdev, and comprises eight global experts with a range of scientific, technical, policy and socioeconomic expertise.

In order to provide as robust an assessment as possible of the resources needed to fund conservation activities ranging from pollution reduction to invasive species management, the panel first examined what we know about the economic value of biodiversity. We then determined how much funding is currently going toward biodiversity conservation in different regions, and estimated how much extra funding is needed in order to fully meet all targets.

Here in Hyderabad, we aim to stimulate discussion on this topic and to provide recommendations on future work which would help countries better understand how they can achieve these targets.

Overall, the report estimates total resource needs of US$ 130 billion to US$ 430 billion per year between 2013 and 2020 to meet all the targets. The report also identifies and explores possible sources of financing, such as payment for ecosystem services (PES), conservation agreements, forest carbon offsets and private sector investment.

The implementation and delivery of the Aichi Biodiversity Targets requires the development of an appropriate and coherent political and institutional framework and strong political will, particularly at national and regional levels.

This investment in “natural capital” — the benefits and services provided to people by biodiversity and ecosystems — will deliver significant co-benefits for sustainable development. For example, restoration of ecosystems such as mangroves, wetlands and reefs can improve livelihoods for local communities and improve resilience and adaptation to climate change.

Expenditure to meet the Aichi Targets should be recognized as part of wider investment needs for promoting sustainable development. My home country of Costa Rica is renowned for the role that nature plays in its thriving tourism economy; over the past 25 years Costa Rica has tripled its GDP while doubling the size of its forests. Thanks to this success, Costa Rica sees the Aichi Targets as a cost-effective manner to invest in its natural capital while also concentrating efforts and resources toward improving human well-being.

The panel’s most important finding may be that existing evidence suggests that the benefits of protecting nature are likely to significantly outweigh costs. By one estimate, our planet’s ecosystem services provide us with US$ 14 trillion of benefits every year — benefits that will quickly deteriorate if we don’t take immediate action to protect them.

The amount of funding needed to achieve the Aichi Targets may seem big, but one thing is certain: this amount will only grow the longer we wait.

Carlos Manuel Rodriguez is vice president and senior advisor for global policy in CI’s Center for Conservation and Government. He was formerly the environment and energy minister for Costa Rica.