Who values nature: the power to create new biodiversity markets?



Has the time come for economic valuation of ecosystems or will this weaken conservation by commodifying nature? Dario Kenner of Why Green Economy? argues that who values nature could be crucial to what happens after valuation.



For many, nature has intrinsic value which means it’s unquantifiable and priceless. The process of economic valuation attempts to go beyond this to quantify and place economic values on ‘ecosystem services’ - for example, the global value of pollination by bees has been estimated to be $190 billion a year.



For my part, I have been looking into an under-researched aspect of this debate: who would do the valuing in the first place? To try and answer this question I think it’s useful to consider how actors value nature in developing countries as this is where the vast majority of the world’s population lives and because these countries have high levels of environmental degradation (partly due to developed countries outsourcing their resource consumption).



Looking at the range of actors operating in the global south (for example governments, consultancy firms, academics and indigenous peoples) it’s clear that they all value nature differently. To date it has mainly been expert bodies such as academics, NGOs and consultancy firms who are valuing nature via a set of valuation methodologies that tend to focus on monetary valuation. By contrast, indigenous peoples and local communities, whose livelihoods directly depend on their local environment, already value nature. They often recognise non-monetary values based on a spiritual connection to their ancestral lands and collective use of the commons, rather than using economic ideas based on individual self-interest and a separation of humans from nature. Brazilian indigenous leader Davi Yanomami explains, “The forest gives us life, we value the forest, and for us, the forest is priceless.” Pavan Sukhdev (a leading figure in initiatives that call for economic valuation) told me: “it is for society at large to decide whose valuation counts. We can only be certain that all these valuations will be different.”



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