Scientists often talk about the risks and consequences of a deteriorating environment: water shortages, global warming, natural disasters, population shifts, conflicts, and others. Nonetheless, it must be noted that their reports, like those of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), have not been enough to trigger the mobilisation and commitment needed to meet those challenges. Recent work conducted by Quebec researchers and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has taken a different approach, focusing primarily on the economic value of the environment and the financial impacts of its deterioration.
It is well known that protecting the environment has a price. In a report published in 2014, the French General Commission on Sustainable Development estimated, for example, that France had allocated no less than €47.5 billion to environmental protection in 2012… If environmental protection (water, air, soil, waste management, renewable energies, etc.) has a cost, environmental deterioration is even more costly. This has been demonstrated, with data to support it, by Jérôme Dupras, a geography researcher at the University of Montreal, who wrote his doctoral thesis on the eco-economic impact of urban sprawl around Montreal over the past 50 years. He simulated the loss to a community of the benefits of forests, virgin land, wetlands and farmlands including, for example, agricultural products, the filtration of the air and water by forests, the attenuation of flood risks by swamps and marshes, plant pollination by insects, as well as recreational areas that contribute to human well-being. Drawing on previous international studies, the researcher translated those impacts into financial losses totalling $236 million a year…
Credits: SUEZ environnement – William Daniels
In conjunction with the Boston Consulting Group (United States) and the Global Change Institute of the University of Queensland (Australia), the WWF took a similar approach with a different focus: the planet’s oceans. The NGO had one goal: “Recognising that science alone is an insufficient motivator, we have gathered evidence of serious environmental degradation with an economic case for urgent action.” With this objective, the report is the first to evaluate the value of the marine heritage and the value of the goods and services generated by the ocean and coastal environment. The result? Our oceans are worth 24 trillion dollars! And when calculated in the same way as national GDP, the planet’s Gross “Marine” Product ranks the planet’s oceans as its 7th largest economy with estimated annual goods and services of US$2.5 trillion.
The report’s authors estimate that more than two-thirds of the planet’s annual economic production depends on the health of this heritage. Attacks on ocean resources by overexploitation, poor practices and global warming result in lost earnings for the global economy and the millions of people whose income depends on the maritime world.
“The ocean feeds us, gives us work and contributes to our health and well-being, but we are allowing it to degrade before our eyes,” warns Marco Lambertini, Director General of WWF International. “If the evidence shows that it is deteriorating, it is not enough for our leaders to just think about it. We may need an in-depth economic analysis.”