It could cost almost $5 billion a year to reduce the threat of extinction for endangered species all over the world plus an additional $76 billion to both establish and maintain protected areas for threatened wildlife. These figures are from a just-published study in the journal Science and underscore the extent of funding needed to preserve biodiversity around the world.
Everyone wrings their hands about endangered species but taking concrete action can be another matter. The Science study aims to make the financial costs to preserve biodiversity more precise; some scientists think that “uncertainty about financial information helps governments who are reluctant to commit to funding the targets.”
Putting a Price Tag on Preserving Biodiversity
Two years ago, governments around the world agreed they would work to reduce the rate of species becoming extinct due to human activity and to better support protected areas by 2020, through the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).
Global conservation efforts have been successful in preventing the extinction of 31 species of birds in the past century, says a 2006 study in the journal Science. But the bird species’ long time survival still hangs in the balance, due to the ongoing threat of habitat loss. Currently about $1 billion is needed to reduce the extinction rate of globally threatened bird species, but only 12 percent of that is funded.
Donal McCarthy, an environmental economist from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), pointed out why establishing and maintaining protected areas for endangered species is crucial. While researchers found that “the most highly threatened species tend to be relatively cheap to save on account of their small range sizes, such as the Razo lark, which lives on the island of Razo in the Cape Verde islands” — the estimate cost to conserve the bird is less than $100,000 a year over the next ten years — other measures must be considered. Conservationists hope to introduce the ground-nesting Razo lark to a neighboring island but must first control a population of cats who were introduced by humans.
The Costs of Endangered Species Are More Than Justified
To arrive at their cost estimates, scientists looked at data on the conservation of 211 globally threatened bird species as well as for threatened mammals, amphibians, reptiles, invertebrates and plants.
Obviously, $76 billion is a lot of money. But as scientists in the BBC point out, that amount is just a fifth of what is spent on soft drinks a year (shocking enough to read on its own) and only one percent of the value of ecosystems that are lost every year. $3-5 billion is “less than the amount that the Royal Navy’s new aircraft carrier is over budget,” says BirdLife International in the Guardian. All told, the total sum needed to save species and their habitats is “less than half the amount spent on bankers’ bonuses last year.”
As Butchart also says:
These aren’t bills, they are investments in natural capital, because they are dwarfed by the benefits we get back from nature, the ecosystem services, such as pollination of crops, regulation of climate, and the provision of clean water.
Governments have found vast sums to prop up the financial infrastructure of the world. It’s even more vital to keep our natural infrastructure from failing.
The question is, where are our priorities?
The financial costs of preserving biodiversity are huge. But for so many endangered species to disappear from the face of the earth due to human activity is a loss we haven’t even begun to calculate.
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