Rewards for protecting nature far outweigh the cost of doing so, says new report

The findings followed growing scientific evidence that at least 30 per cent of the planet's land and ocean must be protected. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

WASHINGTON - The economic benefits of protecting nature at just 30 per cent of the planet's land and ocean area far outweigh the cost of doing so by a factor of five to one, a new extensive report on the issue has shown.

Currently, roughly 15 per cent of the world's land and 7 per cent of its ocean have some degree of protection.

The report, published on Wednesday (July 8), said additional protections for nature would lead to an average of US$250 billion (S$348.9 billion) in increased economic output and an average of US$350 billion in improved ecosystem services annually.

The new, independent report by over 100 scientists and economists for National Geographic and Campaign for Nature, which works with scientists, indigenous people and over 100 conservation organisations around the world, is titled "Protecting 30% of the planet for nature: costs, benefits and economic implications".

It analysed the cost and benefits across multiple sectors, including agriculture, fisheries, forestry and nature conservation sector.

It also measured the financial impact of protected areas on the global economy, and highlighted the non-monetary benefits as well - like ecosystem services, climate change mitigation, flood protection, clean water and soil conservation.

"Across all measures, the experts find that the benefits are greater when more nature is protected as opposed to maintaining the status quo," the report said.

The United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity has included the 30 per cent protected area goal in its draft 10-year strategy, which is expected to be finalised by the convention's 196 parties next year in Kunming, China.

"With such clear economic and scientific data, momentum continues to build for a landmark global agreement," said the report.

It said the findings followed growing scientific evidence that at least 30 per cent of the planet's land and ocean must be protected to address the alarming collapse of the natural world, which now threatens up to one million species with extinction.

"Our report shows that protection in today's economy brings in more revenue than the alternatives and likely adds revenue to agriculture and forestry, while helping prevent climate change, water crises, biodiversity loss and disease. Increasing nature protection is sound policy for governments juggling multiple interests," said Dr Anthony Waldron, a biodiversity finance and agroforestry specialist and lead author of the report.

"You cannot put a price tag on nature - but the economic numbers point to its protection," he added.

The world currently invests just over US$24 billion a year in protected areas. The report found that roughly US$140 billion would be required by 2030 to obtain the substantial benefits of protecting 30 per cent of the planet's land and ocean.

Such an investment "pales in comparison to the economic benefits that additional protected areas would deliver and to the far larger financial support currently given to other sectors" said another co-author, Dr Enric Sala, currently explorer-in-residence at the National Geographic Society.

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