Conserving Nature Worth $500 Billion to Poor?

A study of 17 of the world’s most important biodiversity hotspots found paying poor people living near those areas for conserving them could result in those people earning $500 billion dollars a year. “Global Biodiversity Conservation and the Alleviation of Poverty” is the title of the research paper.

The study attempted to calculate the value of what is called “ecosystem services,” such as food local people obtain from forests and rivers, protection from mudslides by plants that prevent erosion, wood for fuel and building, fresh water, botanical medicine, consistent rains and many other life sustaining resources, in relation to the value the local poor people provide when they conserve those areas.

“We have always known that biodiversity is foundational to human well-being, but we now have a strong case that ecosystems specifically located in the world’s biodiversity hotspots and high-biodiversity wilderness areas also provide a vital safety net for people living in poverty. Protecting these places is essential not only to safeguard life on earth but also to support the impoverished, ensure continued broad access to nature’s services, and meet the UN millennium development goals,” said Russell Mittermeier, president of Conservation International and a co-author of the study. Source: The Guardian)

If $500 billion sounds like too large a number to pay poor people to conserve what is left of biodiversity, consider that the value of free ecosystems services was once calculated to be $33 trillion per year. Five hundred billion is a very small fraction of that total.

Conserving biodiversity doesn’t only provide local people with resources they depend upon for survival, it also impacts much larger situations such as climate change. So paying local poor people to conserve forests is much more sensible that chopping them down for a quick single cash payment. It is more reasonable for the environment and for the long-term finances of the people who live in those areas. Also when natural ecosystems are maintained, they can continue to provide economic value to local people, who otherwise might not have any other source of income.

For example, a huge loss of trees in Kenya’s Mau forest, which is the largest watershed in that country, feeding over 10 large rivers, has decreased rainfall so those rivers have been at lower levels, meaning up to 10 million people and scores of wild animals have less water. Many animals have died in related drought conditions. With fewer animals, tourism is at risk, and the local economy suffers when fewer tourists visit and spend their money. A small fraction of these trees are being replanted, but it would have been far better to have protected the original ones to preserve the whole forest and the economies associated with it. The cost of restoration is typically much greater than conserving what already exists. Additionally, the free ecosystem services are lost during the period when the habitats have been destroyed.

At one point at Kenyan minister was asking the United Nations for $400 million to help restore their water supply. If the forests had been preserved properly over the last decades, restoration might not have been necessary. The United Nations is a possible funder of such programs to pay local poor people to conserve the world’s most important biodiversity zones. For example, one of their programs called Redd (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation), is donating billions to conservation of important forests to stop them from being destroyed, because they play a role in reducing climate change.

Endangered tigers in Sumatra are having a fund of $33 million set up for them, because they are on the brink of extinction, so they need much better conservation and reduction of poaching. Some might say these predators have no value and are a danger to humans, but large predators like tigers that are on the top of the food chain play an important role in keeping ecosystems in balance. Recently more research found ecosystems across the planet have been disrupted by the decrease in apex predators. Also research on wolves in Yellowstone found they are worth about $35 million dollars a year because tourists visit the area to have a chance to see them in the wild.

Image Credit: Phil P Harris/ Wiki Commons

Related Links
Wolves Good for Yellowstone, Says Study
Yellowstone Wolves Worth $35 Million Dollars a Year


Eternal Gardener
Eternal G5 years ago

Noted the info!

Debbie Crowe
Debbie Crowe5 years ago

Most people would agree conserving nature is worth the $500 Billion. At least it is helping nature instead of making things worse.

Bee Hive
Fiona O5 years ago

A sound idea. Pay them to conserve and they will not seek employment which will pay them to destroy.

Janice P.
Janice P5 years ago

I would rather see paying these people for saving and cultivating the forests than to pay them for cutting down the trees. Saving the rainforests is far better for the environment and health of the human race than turning it into wasteland or farmland or grazing land for animals. After all, look what's happened to the U.S. since so many of the forests that were here when the first settlers arrived have been destroyed.

Glenn B.
Glenn Byrne5 years ago

how is it that in this day and age people are still denying global warming and continuing to despoil our natural resources????

Mary B.
Mary B5 years ago

It's about time we started recognizing the benefit that local indiginous poor people make and paying them for it, so they don't need to resort to poaching and other destructive things just to survive.

Chad A.
Chad A5 years ago

The US should offer to fund all of these projects by itself because it would be a tiny drop in the bucket, would do a world of good, and would help build some more trust and goodwill.

Lovely Devaya
Lovely Devaya5 years ago

I wish we could penalize the governments/politicians who destroy their countries' natural resources for short-term selfish gains. Maybe UN should be given some ‘teeth’ to bring the culprits to book?
The destruction of bio-diversity does not happen just in the so called ‘poor’ countries but across the board all over the world including in the ‘rich’ countries.

Lovely Devaya
Lovely Devaya5 years ago

I wish we could penalize governments/politicians that are so short-sighted as to destroy the long term sustainability of their countries for short-term selfish gains!
This is not the case just in the so called "poor" countries but across the board all over the world even in the richest countries.

Emil Perera
Emil Perera5 years ago

Thanks for the valuable article