Sustainable Prosperity urges greater use of economic incentives to
conserve nature's wealth
TORONTO, June 6, 2011 /CNW/ - Putting a market value on Canada's - and
the world's - precious ecosystems could be a significant step towards
conserving them, by making people more aware of the cost of consuming
the planet's resources, according to a report by a Canadian think tank.
The worth of nature's resources must be calculated into Canada's
economic balance sheet to sustain those resources, according to Advancing the Economics of Biodiversity in Canada, a report by Canada's leading green-economy think tank, Sustainable Prosperity (SP) released today at the United Nations Environment Programme's World
Environment Day (WED) celebration in Toronto.
The report looks at the economic value of the good and services that
nature provides to us for free, such as rich soil, clean air and water,
or a life-supporting climate. It states that Canada is blessed with a
rich endowment of "natural capital." For example, the estimated value
of the ecological goods and services provided by various eco-regions
ranges from $2.6 billion per year from Ontario's Greenbelt, to $5.4
billion from B.C.'s Lower Mainland, to $703 billion per year from
Canada's boreal forests. One academic study estimated that the overall
value of the Earth's ecosystems is roughly $33 trillion per year -
twice the total human GDP of the planet (in 1997).
"If we undervalue the life-supporting services that nature provides, we
mortgage our future," said University of Ottawa Professor Stewart
Elgie, Chair of Sustainable Prosperity, and one of the report's
authors. "Nature's wealth is the foundation of our economy, but we are
using many natural resources faster than the planet can replenish
The report finds that a major cause of this unsustainable use is the
fact that we are not paying the true cost of most of the natural
resources we use or pollute (such as water or wildlife habitat), and
therefore don't realize their value.
"Because we get nature's services for free, we tend to use them
wastefully - much like a tenant who doesn't pay for electricity leaves
the lights on," said Elgie. "The root of the problem is that market
prices aren't telling the environmental truth, which leads us all to be
unwitting accomplices in depleting the ecosystems we depend on."
Recently, a major study by the United Nations Environment Program and
others estimated that the loss of ecosystem services will cost $2-4.5
trillion annually by 2050 - or seven per cent of global GDP - if
current rates of ecosystem degradation continue.
To solve this problem, the key is putting a value on nature's ecological
services - to create an economic incentive to conserve the planet's
natural wealth. The good news, the report says, is that a growing
number of such incentives already exist.
Called economic instruments (EIs), these policy measures create incentives to conserve
biodiversity, boost green technology, and discourage resource waste -
without harming, or even enhancing, competitiveness. Furthermore, EIs
can help people rethink their relation to the natural environment.
The report focuses on two categories of EIs: (i) those that create positive incentives for nature conservation, through instruments such as green fees or
taxes, incentive payments, or environmental markets (like cap & trade);
and (ii) those that reduce disincentives to nature conservation, particularly harmful subsidies (such as tax
breaks for oil sands development).
To date, Canada has made less use of EIs than most other developed
countries - a problem that has been highlighted by the Organization for
Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). But that is starting to
change. The SP report identifies nearly 40 such programs that are
working across Canada at the federal and provincial levels. For
in Saskatchewan, Ducks Unlimited has led an innovative "reverse auction"
to pay landowners for restoring wetlands in their fields, in an effort
to bring back 56,000 hectares of prairie wetland habitat,
in Ontario, the South Nation Conservation Authority has instituted a
water quality trading market designed to reduce phosphorus discharge to
the watershed at low cost,
the Alberta Greenhouse Gas Offset System enables landowners to be paid for managing their farms or forests to
store additional carbon, while maintaining biodiversity; and
the federal Ecological Gifts Program provides tax credits to landowners who donate ecologically sensitive
lands to environmental charities.
The report concludes that an overview of EIs not only makes good
environmental sense but is also in Canada's economic self-interest.
"The economy of the future is likely to reward countries that reduce
environmental waste and use scarce natural capital wisely," said Elgie.
"Canada is blessed with one of the richest natural endowments of any
country on Earth. We need to become better stewards of the natural
wealth hidden in our forests, farms, lakes and cities -- to build a
greener, more competitive economy."
To view the full Report, please visit sustainableprosperity.ca. Report hashtag: #TEEBCan
To learn about World Environment Day, please visit www.unep.org/wed
Sustainable Prosperity focuses on market-based approaches to build a
stronger, greener economy. It brings together business, policy and
academic leaders to help innovative ideas inform policy development.
SOURCE Sustainable Prosperity
For further information:
Jennifer Wesanko, firstname.lastname@example.org 604-347-5988