A new study led by the University of Cambridge conducted across dozens of sites on every continent and in every biome found that more often than not, the economic benefit of conservation is greater than that of exploitation. That means it's now actually costing more money to exploit ecosystems for resources than it is to simply leave them alone, or even actively conserve them.
The findings, published in the journal Nature Sustainability, come just weeks after a landmark review by Cambridge Professor Sir Partha Dasgupta called for the value of biodiversity to be placed at the heart of global economics. For the latest study, scientists calculated the monetary worth of each site’s “ecosystem services”, such as carbon storage and flood protection, as well as likely dividends from converting it for production of goods such as crops and timber.
The team initially concentrated on 24 sites and compared their “nature-focused” and “alternative” states by working out the annual net value of a range of goods and services for each site under each state, then projected the data over the next 50 years.
Hesketh Out Marsh, a saltmarsh in North-West England. Researchers calculated each hectare is worth over US$2000 in carbon storage alone. A major economic benefit of natural habitats comes from their regulation of the greenhouse gases driving climate change, including the sequestration of carbon. Assuming each tonne of carbon carries a cost of $31 to global society – a sum many scientists now consider conservative – then over 70% of the sites have greater monetary value as natural habitats, including 100% of forest sites.
If carbon is assigned the paltry cost of $5 a tonne, 60% of the sites still provide greater economic benefit when unconverted or restored to natural habitats. Even if carbon is removed completely from calculations, researchers found that almost half (42%) of the 24 sites are still worth more to us in their natural form.