Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Worth more alive than dead: Our biodiversity challenge - Part 2

In essence, what we need is the equivalent of "The Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change", for biodiversity. And happily, that is exactly what we are getting. TEEB - The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity - is working to put a cost on the loss of ecosystem services and biodiversity loss, and to recommend policy actions.

What TEEB needs to prove - much like the Stern Review - is that the cost of inaction is not only real, but also enormous. Fortunately, this argument is getting a boost from the crescendo on climate change. And more specifically, the links between deforestation and climate change. Tropic deforestation accounts for about 20% of annual greenhouse gas emissions.

So the challenge becomes, how do we make forests worth more alive than dead? The answer, championed by Brazilian Congressman Marcio Santilli, is "compensated reduction". In other words, paying developing countries not to chop down their forests. Thankfully, this idea is starting to gain political traction. It is a win-win on climate and biodiversity.

And it is people like Sino-Australian Dorjee Sun that are showing us how to turn a good idea into a practical reality. 32-year old Sun - a millionaire by age 30 - now runs Carbon Conservation, which brokers rain-forest-carbon-credit deals. In 2008, he brokered the world's first commercial deforestation-avoidance project, with Merill Lynch paying to protect 1.9 million acres of Indonesian jungle, for credits that it will trade on the international carbon markets.

We all know that we can't - nor would we want to - put a price on everything. But the sad fact is that unless we put a price on biodiversity and ecosystem services - our very life support system - we are in danger of self-destruction. There is an African saying, "the revolution will eat its children". Let's make sure the "market revolution" does not devour our natural inheritance.