Experts in a variety of academic disciplines have launched an effort to address a root cause of environmental exploitation—the economic invisibility of nature—through a global initiative called The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB).
TEEB is an international community of experts from the fields of ecosystem science and economics that is trying to draw attention to the economic benefits of biodiversity and to the growing cost of biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation, while supporting efforts to integrate biodiversity and ecosystem considerations in government and business policymaking.
“Clean air, fresh water, soil fertility—those natural resources are public goods and services that don’t have a market,” said Pavan Sukhdev, TEEB study leader and the 2011 Dorothy S. McCluskey Fellow in Conservation at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies. “It’s all too easy to ignore them and call them externalities, but that implies they have nothing to do with you. And that’s the whole point—it does.”
Sukhdev said natural resources, in some cases, are the underpinning of a corporation’s existence—think fresh water and Coca Cola—and that they are provided free doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be measured, valued and managed.
“That is what TEEB is really bringing to the table—the ability to understand in economic terms what is essentially ignored because they’re public goods and services, and because they’re provided free,” he said.
TEEB originated in 2007 at the meeting of G8+5 environment ministers in Potsdam, where the German government proposed a study on the economic significance of the global loss of biological diversity as part of the Potsdam Initiative.
In response, TEEB produced four publications that were presented at the Convention on Biological Diversity’s COP-10 meeting in Nagoya, Japan, in October 2010: “TEEB Ecological and Economic Foundations”; “TEEB in National and International Policy Making”; “TEEB for Local and Regional Policy”; and “TEEB in Business and Enterprise.”
The entire TEEB series of books is available in the form of a graduate lecture course taught by the authors, and it’s on the web. Called TEEB@Yale, the series of 26 videos
addresses the challenges in valuing biodiversity and ecosystem services in developing countries, some core frameworks and methodologies for such valuation, local and national policies that would protect biodiversity, and the impact of business practices on biodiversity.
“We cannot manage what we do not measure, and we are not measuring either the value of nature’s benefits or the costs of their loss,” said Sukhdev. “We seem to be navigating the new and unfamiliar waters of ecological scarcities and climate risks with faulty instruments. Replacing our obsolete economic compass could help economics become part of the solution to reversing ecosystem degradation and biodiversity loss.”