World Bank to help gauge natural wealth


NAGOYA — The World Bank said Thursday in Nagoya it will begin a project to help developing countries integrate the economic benefits of nature into their state policies in an effort to save millions of people from poverty while making sure their natural assets are used in a sustainable way.

Introducing ecosystem valuation into national accounting systems will help governments make better decisions about the way their nature is managed, World Bank Group President Robert Zoellick said in Nagoya, where he is attending the Convention on Biological Diversity meeting.

“We need to give top decision-makers the tools they need to make the right decisions,” said Zoellick, the first World Bank Group president to attend the biodiversity meetings.

The project will involve various parties, including the developed and developing countries, international organizations and nongovernmental organizations. A 5-year pilot project in India and Columbia will soon start developing ways for countries to quantify the value of their ecosystems and “ecosystem services” into income and asset values.

They will also look for ways to apply such thinking in several countries, the World Bank said.

The term ecosystem services denotes the benefits imparted by nature that people benefit from, including the provision of food and water, the support of farming through pollination, protecting against natural disasters, and cultural and recreational benefits.

Zoellick gave an example of how a country could change its nature calculations.

“For example, in clearing mangroves for shrimp farming, the calculation will no longer simply be the revenue from profit on shrimp farming minus the farming cost. It would now deduct the loss of coastal protection from cyclones, and the loss of fish and other products provided by the mangroves from its calculations,” he said.

The World Bank’s new project follows the final report of The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity by the United Nations Environment Program released last week, which said biodiversity degradation occurred because the value of nature’s services is invisible and thus natural capital was neglected.

“What is clear is we need to bring about real change in the ways we value natural capital and ecosystem services and integrate them into our decision-making processes,” said Caroline Spelman, secretary of state for the United Kingdom’s department for environment, who joined Zoellick at the press conference.

Spelman also announced that the United Kingdom will provide £5,000 in support for the preparatory phase of the project.

“We take for granted the services that the nature provides are for free,” she said. “It’s estimated that, the work of bees are worth £400 million to the U.K. economy.”