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Valuing the land

17 September 2015

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Emeritus Professor Robert Costanza is a leading ecological economist and former Chair in Public Policy at the Crawford School of Public Policy. His research integrates the study of humans and the rest of nature to address sustainability and well-being.

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How much is a clear, sunny day, the feel of the wind on your face, or the sound of a bird’s trill worth to you? Most would say invaluable, but a growing group of environmentalists are trying to monetize nature’s benefits to humans in order to save it.

A new report The Value of Land: Prosperous lands and positive rewards through sustainable land management, co-authored by Crawford academics Dr Robert Costanza and Dr Ida Kubiszewski, has warned that valuable ecosystem services – beneficial services that a healthy natural environment provides to human beings – are being eroded due to destructive human practices such as over farming and pollution.

The report, developed by the Economics of Land Degradation Initiative, brought together contributors from several environmental organisations and was edited by staff at the Institute for Water, Environment and Health at UN University.

“We need to take a much broader approach to managing the planet” including [putting] a price on natural services,” said Costanza.

According to the report, the very land we live on is a priceless resource. Land degradation is costing the world $6.3 to $10.6 trillion in ecosystem service losses every year, such as the loss of food production, timber, medicines, fresh water, and the absorption of greenhouse gases.

The report says about one third of the world’s arable land (land suitable for growing crops) has been affected by degradation with devastating impact, including the potential displacement of millions of people around the world.

“A loss of $10.6 trillion every year, or 17 per cent of the global GDP, is an amazing loss in value of ecosystem services a year due to land degradation,” said Kubiszewski.

“But more importantly, its consequences on global food supply are even greater when considering human health and other aspects of well-being.”

The report suggests that incorporating environmentally friendly and sustainable measures such as green farming and urban planning could not only reduce the impact of land degradation, but could recover the trillions of dollars that have been lost and even bring in approximately $75 billion in global income.

Most importantly, putting these and other sustainability practices into place can help ensure that the ecosystem services that ensure human happiness and survival will be around for generations to come.

“The report shows that with the appropriate set of agriculture and forestry policies that recognise the value of natural capital, we can restore global ecosystem services and create a sustainable and desirable future,” said Costanza.

Which means that putting a price tag on nature could not only help save it, but ourselves as well.

To read the Value the Land report, please visit here

For coverage of this report in The Washington Post, please visit here.

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