While assigning a monetary value to the benefits of an ecosystem can be an essential tool in the environmental planning process, unequal access to those benefits, particularly where there are differences in wealth and power, can lead to poor trade-offs being made, both for the ecosystem itself and those who rely on it.
“Putting a price on what nature provides is not in itself a conservation measure,” said Adams. “There is a risk that traditional conservation strategies oriented toward biodiversity may not be effective at protecting the economic benefits of an ecosystem, and vice-versa.”
…The ways in which we depend on our natural environment are increasingly expressed as ‘ecosystem services’, or the range of benefits we get from nature for free. These benefits include the provision of food and clean water, erosion control and carbon storage. Quantifying the value of nature in this way is meant to allow policymakers to consider the potential economic and social impacts of altering a particular habitat.
This approach does sometimes lead to win-win scenarios, where the value of ecosystem services is dependent upon a high level of biodiversity. One example is in the coffee plantations of Costa Rica, where the retention of forest habitat in areas around the plantations doubled the amount of pest control of coffee berry borer beetle provided by birds, which benefitted the coffee farmers while protecting biodiversity.
However, consideration of ecosystem services when making decisions does not automatically lead to retention of biodiversity. “In many cases, trade-offs are made,” said Adams….