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Mainstreaming biodiversity values

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This article originally appeared in The Circle 02.15.

Putting economics and biodiversity in one sentence or one report always generates a lot of discussion. The concept of ecosystem services puts humans square in the centre of everything – what’s in it for us? As Mark Marissink writes, many people object to this view.

Baffin Island, Canada. Photo: Martin von Mirbach / WWF-CanonBaffin Island, Canada. Photo: Martin von Mirbach / WWF-Canon

People tend to see nature as a complex web of interconnections and with a range of different values – spiritual, intrinsic, material etc. To single out humankind as the centre of attention then seems to be a bit…well, self-centered. The discussion rises even higher when monetary values are mentioned.

The Economics of Ecosystems and biodiversity (TEEB), however, is not necessarily about monetary values, or about monetization. Yet it is about nature’s value to us and it does put humankind in the centre. But, whether we like it or not, that is pretty much the way things are done in politics and decision making. That is also why it is so important to mainstream biodiversity values (i.e., to make them visible in all decision making). The need for mainstreaming was confirmed by the Arctic Council when adopting the recommendations from the Arctic Biodiversity Assessment, and that’s why it is important to explore what TEEB methodology can contribute in an Arctic context. But how did it come about?

Almost ten years ago, a study was published that changed the debate on climate change. The Stern report showed that climate change would not only affect humankind’s future on earth, it would also affect our economy. Projected changes in temperature would cost us 5-20% of our global GDP by the year 2100. On the other hand, the report also stated that it would cost only a fraction of this to halt the increase in greenhouse gas emissions, if done in time.

Although it was not met with universal acclaim, the impact the Stern report had on policy makers gave food for thought in the international negotiations on biodiversity. Surely an economic case could be made for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity as well? The economics of ecosystems and biodiversity was launched, led by Pavan Sukhdev at Deutsche Bank, in order to provide answers. Not unlike the Stern report, TEEB found that conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity would indeed be beneficial from an economic point of view.

TEEB was very influential in the discussions leading to the new Strategic plan for biodiversity, adopted by the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity in Nagoya in 2010 and subsequently endorsed by the United Nations General Assembly. Target 2 in the plan states: By 2020, at the latest, biodiversity values have been integrated into national and local development and poverty reduction strategies and planning processes and are being incorporated into national accounting, as appropriate, and reporting systems.

TEEB studies have since been carried out in a number of countries and also for specific sectors. They have become more policy-focused over time. The approach and methodology for country scoping studies have been detailed in the 2013 TEEB Guidance manual for country studies. Compared with country studies, however, the policy landscape in the Arctic is diverse and complicated and the Arctic TEEB Scoping Study has been broadened to include information and discussion related more generally to improving understanding of the full range of Arctic ecosystem services, as well as information and discussion on aspects of governance and of valuing ecosystem services in the context of the circumpolar Arctic and Arctic Council. It does not conclude with a defined set of specific policies for assessment in a full TEEB study, but rather provides guidance and examples on policy focus areas that could be further refined and assessed using TEEB methodology.

Another acronym that needs to be mentioned is IPBES, the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. Under the auspices of IPBES global, regional and subregional assessments of ecosystems and biodiversity will be carried out in order to provide guidance for better decision making. IPBES explicitly tries to consolidate different knowledge systems and different world views in an inclusive process. No specific study for the Arctic is foreseen; rather, the Arctic is covered by two regions (the Americas, and Europe and Central Asia). The TEEB Arctic Scoping study and a possible follow-up will bring a much needed Arctic perspective to the regional and sub-regional studies to be carried out in these regions, and will thus ensure that the Arctic is not forgotten in future global decisions on biodiversity and development.

Mark Marissink heads the unit for nature and biodiversity in the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency and is the Swedish representative to the Arctic Council working group on the Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna.

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