Going for a song – the natural world is priceless and disappearing

Press release - 16 November 2009

The Value of Nature
The Annual Science Lecture, Monday 16 November, 19.30–21.00, Natural History Museum

Saving the world’s forests, coral reefs and wetlands will save us money as well as protect our environment, according the Pavan Sukhdev, who will explain the true value of nature at this year’s Annual Science Lecture at London’s Natural History Museum.


Pavan explains, ‘Managing people’s desire for things like food, energy, water, and medicinal drugs in a way that reduces the impact on the planet’s diversity is no mean task. Indeed this is the greatest challenge that faces society today.’


A senior banker at Deutsche Bank, Pavan is currently on secondment to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to lead the agency’s Green Economy Initiative, which includes The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity study (TEEB), the Green Economy Report and the Green Jobs report.


The variety of life on the planet is increasingly being put at risk from the impact of greenhouse gases, which are increasing at an alarming rate. Funding for the protection of endangered habitats is crucial in the fight against climate change. Forests, for example, are the source of rivers, nutrients for agriculture, opportunities for eco-tourism and food and these so-called ecosystem services are instrumental in protecting vulnerable communities against the impact of climate change already underway.


Pavan is an advocate of natural or nature-based assets such as coral reefs becoming considerations in mainstream economic and policy planning. He explains, ‘The ecosystem services from coral reefs – ranging from coastal defence to fish nurseries, are worth up to US$170 million (£104 million) a hectare a year. An estimated half a billion people depend on them for livelihoods and more than a quarter of all marine fish species are dependent on coral reefs.’


TEEB seeks to show that economics can be a powerful instrument in biodiversity policy, both by supporting decision processes and by forging discourses between science, economics and governing structures. The legitimate and effective use of economic instruments in biodiversity conservation depends on their appropriate application and interpretation and the TEEB study will provide guidance and tools to help, aimed at national policymakers, local administrators and business.


The natural world is the source of much value to us every day – this can be spiritually, culturally, health-wise or economically. Pavan explains that as pressure increases from population growth, changing diets, urbanisation and climate change, we are suffering the consequences of the resulting loss of our biodiversity. Preserving the world’s protected areas such as the Great Barrier Reef would come at no great cost to society. An annual investment of US$45 billion (£25 billion) would secure the delivery of ecosystem services worth some US$5 trillion (£3 trillion), an incredible cost to take nature for granted. The lecture will cover:

•         the costs of biodiversity loss and the costs and benefits of actions to reduce these losses

•         guidance for policy makers in order to foster sustainable development and better conservation of the planet


The TEEB for Policymakers report will be published on 13 November.


Mr Sukhdev continues, ‘We can look at the world’s economy as a sub-set of the larger economy of the natural resources and ecosystem services that sustain us. The loss of our forests and biodiversity in general could cost us between US$2 and 4.5 trillion (£1.2–2.8 trillion) a year, which is a staggering amount to pay to take nature for granted. Awareness and understanding of the economic value of ecosystems and biodiversity is the first step towards improving business performance, creating effective policies and implementing action at a local, regional and national level.’


You don’t need to be an expert to enjoy this fascinating lecture in the relaxed atmosphere and beautiful surroundings of the Museum’s Hintze Hall  (formerly the Central Hall).


Notes for editors


  • Pavan Sukhdev is a senior banker at Deutsche Bank, currently on secondment to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). He leads the agency’s Green Economy Initiative, which includes The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity study (TEEB), the Green Economy Report, and the Green Jobs report. Pavan has written for newspapers and magazines such as the Economic Times, Indian Express and Sanctuary and popularised the concept and measurement of green economic growth. Pavan was instrumental in the evolution of India’s currency, interest rate and derivatives markets from 1993 to 1998. Pavan pursues long-standing interests in environmental economics and nature conservation through his work with environmental organisations in India and Europe. Beyond his contributions to TEEB and the Green Economy Initiative, his work in this area includes founding and serving as Director of the Green Accounting for Indian States Project, an initiative of the Green Indian States Trust (GIST), serving as President of Conservation Action Trust (CAT) and co-founding and now serving as Trustee of India Environment Trust (IET). In his spare time, Pavan manages a model rainforest restoration and eco-tourism project in Tarzali, north Queensland, Australia and an organic farming and eco-tourism venture in the Nilgiri hills of south India.
  • The TEEB study is a major international initiative to draw attention to the global economic benefits of biodiversity, highlight the growing cost of biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation and draw together expertise from the fields of science, economics and policy to enable practical actions moving forward.
  • The TEEB study was launched by Germany and the European Commission in response to a proposal by the G8+5 Environment Ministers to develop a global study on the economics of biodiversity loss. The second phase of the TEEB study is hosted by UNEP with financial support from the European Commission, German Federal Ministry for the Environment and the UK Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
  • The TEEB project will be completed in 2010 and presented in Nagoya at the 10th conference of the parties of the convention for biological diversity (CBD COP-10).
  • The Natural History Museum is a world-leading research centre. In the new Darwin Centre, visitors can discover the collections and watch scientists as they prepare, mount and study some of the Museum’s millions of insect and plant specimens to understand the major threats facing our planet today. Through its collections and scientific expertise, the Museum is helping to conserve the extraordinary richness and diversity of the natural world with groundbreaking projects in 68 countries.
  • International Year of Biodiversity (IYB) – the Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD), located in Montreal, was designated by the UN General Assembly as the focal point for celebrations of the IYB. The CBD has created the logo for the IYB and encouraged governments and organisations to celebrate the IYB worldwide. The Year will be inaugurated with official events in Brazil and Germany. The Paris headquarters of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) will host an international exhibition that will be launched in January. The Year will officially end in Kanazawa, Japan in December 2010 with a ceremony marking the beginning of the International Year of Forests 2011.
  • International Year of Biodiversity UK (IYBUK) – hundreds of organisations, charities and groups of all sizes are partnering together in the UK to present an unprecedented programme of activity that will help people in the UK understand and appreciate our biodiversity. Events, talks, initiatives and exhibitions encompassing science and the arts are planned to help people discover the amazing connections between themselves and the world around them, and realise the consequences of biodiversity loss, as well as the huge benefits that are shared if we conserve and use life on Earth sustainably – to find out how to get involved visit www.biodiversityislife.net