Can we put a price on nature?

Press release - 25 January 2012

Launch of earth debates - flagship event series in preparation of Rio+20

The vital role of our environment within our economy has been hidden until recently. Pollinating crops, balancing our water distribution and even providing genetic resources for our medicine are just a few examples of the life-support that natural resources provide.  Yet with no market value, they are consumed freely.  

Tools for calculating some of these natural services are now being developed in Ecosystem Economics and are already influencing global environmental policy. The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) study, launched in 2007 by the Federal Environment Ministry and commissioner for the Environment in the European Commission, transformed the way nature is valued, and the costs of its loss. For example, the report estimates the loss of bees and other insects pollinating our crops, to be 153 billion Euros every year, representing 9.5% of world agricultural output in 2005.  This brings to light some key questions: What are the strengths of this emerging understanding and what are the risks? To what extent will the new economics of ecosystem services change our attitudes towards sustainable development?  

Tackling these issues, in a ‘Question Time’ format, were panellists Professor Sir Robert Watson (Chief Scientific Advisor to Defra), Will Evison (Environmental Economist, PricewaterhouseCoopers), Ian Dickie (Director, Aldersgate Group) and Claire Brown (Senior Programme Officer Ecosystem Services and Assessment, UNEP-World Conservation Monitoring Centre).  The panellists provided a rich range of insights from the scientific, policy, business and civil society perspectives.  Held at the Natural History Museum and chaired by The Guardian’s Former Science Editor, Tim Radford, the debate was available via a live web-cast on the Natural History Museum website.

The Natural History Museum, Stakeholder Forum and The British Council launched the Earth Debates series to drive momentum and contribute to discussions surrounding the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD), also known as Rio+20, happening in Brazil 20-22 June 2012.  The direct descendent of the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, Rio+20 is being held at the highest political level and will bring together Heads of State and Government decision makers to generate a new global vision for sustainable development.  

This flagship series of debates will bring together high level representatives from key sectors including Government, non-government, civil society and business and tackle key issues at the heart of Rio+20 ‘the global transition to a fair and green economy’ agenda.

‘’The great challenge in creating a sustainable future is understanding and living within the natural limits of our planet. Holding this debate in the heart of the Natural History Museum recognises the crucial role for science evidence of global change in realising the goals of Rio+20’’ said Dr Michael Dixon, Director, The Natural History Museum, London.

“The benefits that we get from nature such as flood control, pollination services and clean air have often been taken for granted because we get them for free. Through TEEB and the UK National Ecosystem Assessment we now have a much greater appreciation of the true value of nature, which is now being embedded into the big decisions facing Government. There is a clear need to better manage our ecosystems, and Government, the private sector and the public will need to work together to ensure we protect what nature provides.” said Professor Sir Bob Watson, Chief Scientist at Defra.

The next Earth Debates will focus on:

  • 22 February 2012 Beyond GDP – how to measure progress?
  • 14 March 2012 Green cities in a green economy - how to pioneer a sustainable transition?
  • 11 April 2012 Food security – how to feed the population in 2050?

For more information visit:  http://www.nhm.ac.uk/nature-online/biodiversity/earth-debates/

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Notes for editors

In addition to being a top tourist attraction the Natural History Museum is a world-leading science research centre. 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 more than 70 countries.