Understanding the full value of biodiversity loss

News Published 29 May 2008 Last modified 21 Jun 2016
2 min read
Accounting for all the benefits we gain from ecosystems is an effective way of measuring how biodiversity loss affects our well-being and quality of life. The European Environment Agency is feeding into the debate on the 'economics of ecosystems and biodiversity' with an extensive study on 'Ecosystems accounts for Mediterranean wetlands'.

'Biodiversity loss has an impact on everything from food, water and energy production, to life-saving drug sources, to cultural and aesthetic benefits. We can no longer take these benefits for granted', says Professor Jacqueline McGlade, Executive Director of the EEA. 'Understanding the full value of what we keep losing is a precondition for halting biodiversity loss'.

Biodiversity loss does not only mean loss of species, but also loss and degradation of ecosystem functions. Human impact can undermine or change the productivity of ecosystems, the way nutrients cycle within them, or alter the balance between different species groups, undermining the ecosystems' capacity to deliver services. Once we focus on the direct link between biodiversity and the benefits we derive from ecosystem services, the real costs of biodiversity loss to society become clear.

Every week, implications of this loss, such as the rise in food prices, make the headlines. Several factors are at play: changing and rising demand across the world, reductions in food supply due to climate change as well as growing competition for agricultural land to be used for food, fuel, timber and housing. All of these factors put strains on ecosystem services.

Linking society, economics and the environment

Ecosystem accounts provide a single framework to link all the social, economic and environmental resources on which our well-being depends. Ultimately, they help us to understand the costs of such change, either in monetary terms or in terms of risks to human health or livelihood.

As a contribution to the debate on the economics of biodiversity, the EEA is currently carrying out an extensive ecosystem accounts study on Mediterranean wetlands with the aim of showing the utility of this approach. A briefing, an executive summary and a poster highlighting first outcomes for selected sites such as the Camargue Delta (France), the Doñana Park (Spain) or the Amvrakikos Bay (Greece), are presented today at a side event during COP 9 (the ninth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity) in Bonn, Germany. The study will be completed and published later in the year.

Background information on the economics of ecosystems and biodiversity

The importance of ecosystem services for human well-being was highlighted in the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA) in 2005, which reported that at global scales, 60 % of the services examined in the study (15 out of 24) are being degraded or used unsustainably. Human activity has been responsible for most of the damage — largely through the effects it has had on the biodiversity and the integrity of ecological systems.

These findings were at the heart of the policy discussions during the G8+5 Summit in May 2007, in Potsdam, Germany, where Heads of States asked for a comprehensive evaluation of the costs of biodiversity loss. Progress on this complex evaluation is presented today by an interim report on 'The economics of ecosystems and biodiversity' to the Contracting Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity in Bonn, Germany.



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