What has nature ever done for us? Part 2 of 3.
Tony Juniper is the former Executive Director of Friends of the Earth England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and has just published What has nature ever done for us? This is the second part of a long interview with Tony.
Q. You impressively demonstrate the monetary value of Indian vultures, and we can see how it would be possible to put a price on a beautiful Scottish view, but how will economics save the liverwort or the narrow-head ant?
You could say that the liverwort and narrowheaded ant have values of their own and need to be protected and that’s where traditional nature conservation practice through the protection of species and the control of pollution and the protection of particular areas of habitat that remains an essential toolbox alongside the economic valuation and again I guess it just emphasises that for me its not an either or, it is both and.
Q. A study a while ago estimated that Scotland’s environment was worth £27bn to the economy, a major part being as a sink for pollution. How can we use this kind of thinking more effectively to protect and enhance the environment?
The most practical use of these numbers for campaigners is to be challenging economic decisions that are undermining those values. For example for a woodland we may see that its principal value is in the form of timber and if we can additionally add in the value of carbon capture services and the way it is purifying water and maybe providing flood control you have a whole armoury of arguments that weren’t there before in being able to make the case for the protection of nature rather than for activities that would lead to its degradation.
I think this just gives us an additional set of tools to be able to make the case for nature in the kinds of policy discussions that we are all involved in. The attempted privitisation of England’s woodlands a couple of years ago was reversed, in part, because people were able to make arguments around the irrational economic judgements being made by government as to the value of these systems and they were being sold at a market price which did not have all of these different other hidden elements reflected in them in terms of biodiversity conservation, access, carbon, water and all the other things that are not there in the kinds of transactions that take place in the market where only the timber value was visible so that has been influential here in showing how the Treasury was basically giving away some very significant economically valuable public goods in transactions that were not reflecting the public interests and that did help to make the argument in favour of the points that we were making whereby we were saying that this was not going to be good for the economy actually it was bad for the economy because we are going to be trading away these services which if we are going to keep them in the future we are going to have to pay land owners who now own what was previously state controlled land.
It’s up to the environmental community to get their heads around the valuation methods and to be using them, in ways that are going to give us the best possible benefits from the point of view of our concerns about the value of nature for its own intrinsic reasons as well as economic reasons.
Q. If putting a value on nature really starts working, how do we ensure indigenous people and local communities do not lose out?
This is about civil society participation in the kinds of policies which finish up being crafted and implemented. One positive example has been the case of Guyana where there has been negotiations between the government of that country and the government of Norway in a very significant payment for ecosystem service deal, whereby Norway is paying Guyana to keep its forests intact, mainly because of the carbon services they are providing to the whole world. Over 10 years the government of Norway is planning to pass some $250m to the government of Guyana in return for not clearing its forests.
Obviously there are dangers there for indigenous and other forest-dwelling communities but they have been involved in negotiations that have led to a national low carbon development plan and they will be getting very significant benefits from this in terms of, for example, renewable energy, access to the internet and demarcation of indigenous land, being paid for through the Norwegian money. Crucial to making that happen was having those organisations that represent the indigenous and forest-dwelling
Obviously there are questions of technical expertise and capacity building to be able to negotiate effectively in these kinds of discussions, but again there is a role there for civil society that is more clued in to some of the dangers and so international groups working on these kinds of issues can be helping these communities to get the best possible deal.