How to quantify nature? How to define its value? – these are central themes that world leaders are facing to participate in the United Nations virtual conference on biodiversity (Cop-15) in just over a month.

Biodiversity is fundamental to the survival systems on which humans depend. But governments, financial institutions and policymakers have failed to act accordingly for decades.

According to the UN chief for biodiversity earlier this week, the global targets agreed in Aichi, Japan, in 2010 failed on all 20 counts.

This week, countries are preparing to raise the bar even higher.

To motivate governments to make the necessary investments, the updated UN draft for a global biodiversity framework discussed this week now proposes that governments should “internalize the value of nature and recognize the cost of inaction. “.

The direct negative financial and societal effects of climate change have been highlighted by natural disasters in populated areas in recent years and are widely accepted by economists.

But the effects of biodiversity loss – the loss of bees, the loss of primary forests – on our socio-economic systems are not yet fully understood.

According to the OECD, more than half of the world’s gross domestic product, or $ 44 trillion [€37 trillion], involves activities moderately or strongly dependent on nature. But governments and financial institutions will need more precise figures on which to base their policies.

The value of nature

Last week (August 27), the Banque de France, the country’s central bank, published an article titled A Silent Spring for the Financial System ?, citing Rachel Carston’s eponymous 1962 book on the harmful effects of pesticides (especially DDT) on natural ecosystems. .

The central bank is trying to quantify the risk that biodiversity loss poses to the economy. It aims to show the damage (or the silence of) the natural environment if our financial system continues to function as usual. This is only the second such study to do so nationally, following an earlier effort by the Dutch central bank last year.

According to the bank’s findings, the way the money currently invested in France results in the loss of 4,800 km of “untouched” nature per year – or about 48 times the area of ​​Paris.

Around 42% of the value of bonds and stocks currently held by French financial institutions come from issuers that are highly or very heavily dependent on one or more ecosystem services.

The biodiversity footprint of these bonds and shares is comparable to the loss of at least 130,000 km of “virgin” nature, or about a quarter of the surface area of ​​metropolitan France.

But the document raises another question.

While financial exposure can help policymakers “internalize the value of biodiversity,” the report suggests that it can be problematic to express ecological loss in monetary terms.

Unlike climate change, where universal metrics (tonnes of CO2 equivalent) are relevant, “it is illusory to hope to describe biodiversity by a single indicator”.

By extension, in an editorial, influential Nature magazine called on governments and the UN to consult IPBES, the international panel of leading biodiversity researchers, currently not included in decision-making, on how best to measure the loss of species.

A system that takes into account the complexities of the natural world while providing decision-makers with a convenient tool to work with.


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