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Does nature have a price?

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

You may not be familiar with the terms ‘ecosystem services’ and ‘natural capital,’ but they are words that are becoming increasingly present in discussions regarding nature conservation and can cause major divisions in opinion between environmentalists.

Natural capital is the stock of natural assets, such as geology, soil, air, water and all living things on the planet. Ecosystem services are the benefits that society derives from these assets, such as pollination, air and water purification, food provision and flood defences.

Looking at nature this way allows for a valuation to be assigned to every natural asset and service. The concept is gaining favour with businesses and policy makers across the world, although it would be fair to say that there is still some way to go before it is implemented on a large scale. There are still many debates regarding the ethics of placing a price on nature.

Those supporting the concept argue that the importance of the natural world is largely ignored by policy and decision makers in both business and development, and that placing a financial value on natural assets forces them to take notice - engendering policy making in which economics and ecology are interdependent.

In contrast, many believe that this approach is the ‘monetisation’ of nature and that it detracts from the intrinsic value of nature and ignores the moral obligations that society has to take care of the natural world. There are concerns that the results will be corporations and private businesses owning and having control over natural assets - leading to unequal access to ecosystem services.

The issue is a complex one with many aspects to consider, but what is certain is that proponents of both sides of the argument agree on one thing – that the natural world is important for society and that an effective approach to nature conservation is essential for a sustainable future.

Which side of the fence do you sit on?

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