Biodiversity and Ethical Business

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Reports on economic valuation of biodiversity

TheMillennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA), called for by the United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan in 2000, assesses the consequences of ecosystem change for human well-being. From 2001 to 2005, the MA involved the work of more than 1,360 experts worldwide. Their findings provide a state-of-the-art scientific appraisal of the condition and trends in the world’s ecosystems and the services they provide, as well as the scientific basis for action to conserve and use them sustainably. The bottom line of the MA findings was that human actions are depleting Earth’s natural capital, putting such strain on the environment that the ability of the planet’s ecosystems to sustain future generations can no longer be taken for granted. At the same time, the assessment shows that with appropriate actions it is possible to reverse the degradation of many ecosystem services over the next 50 years, but the changes in policy and practice required are substantial and not currently underway. The MA emphasis on ecosystem services and their significance for human well-being is widely recognized as having made a major contribution to linking biodiversity conservation with poverty alleviation.

The report by the International Council for Science (ICSU), UNESCO, and the United Nations University (UNU) on Ecosystem Change and Human Well-being (2008) builds on the MA and on subsequent reactions and criticism. It identifies research gaps that relate to how humans influence ecosystems and their services and proposes the development of a new 10-year research programme—Humans, Ecosystems and Well-being (HEW)—with the mission to foster coordinated research to understand the dynamic relationship between humans and ecosystems. A red thread running through the report is the need for strengthened collaboration between natural and social scientists.

The project on The Economics of Ecosystem Services and Biodiversity (TEEB) was initiated by the G8+5 environment ministers in early 2007 and organized by the German Ministry of Environment and the European Commission. Inspired by the Stern report (2005) on the economic costs of climate change, this global and interdisciplinary endeavour aims at a better understanding of the true economic value of ecosystem services and biodiversity and the threats to human welfare if no action is taken to reverse current damage and losses. The TEEB interim report (2008) is available here. The final report will be targeted at different types of decision-makers as end-users of the economics of ecosystem services and biodiversit.