Landmark Economic Analysis Shows 5:1 Return on Protected Area Investments
The most comprehensive cost-benefit analysis ever on nature protections has found that the economic, ecological, and spiritual benefits of protecting 30% of the world’s marine and terrestrial ecosystems will outweigh the costs by a factor of at least five to one.
At an average annual cost of US$140 billion, “investing to protect nature would represent less than one-third of the amount that governments spend on subsidies to activities that destroy nature,” said report co-author Enric Sala, explorer-in-residence at the National Geographic Society. “It would represent 0.16% of global GDP and require less investment than the world spends on video games every year.”
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A July 8 release from study co-funders Campaign for Nature (CfN) and National Geographic says the new analysis, led by Cambridge Conservation Institute finance researcher Anthony Waldron, will add significant momentum to efforts to achieve “a landmark global agreement that would include the 30% protection target.” The United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity has included the goal in its draft 10-year strategy, which is expected to be finalized and approved by its members next year in Kunming, China.
In a global first, the new report analyzed the impacts of protected areas across a wide range of sectors, including agriculture, fisheries, and forestry, and measured non-monetary ecosystem benefits like clean water provision, climate change mitigation, flood protection, and soil conservation alongside the direct financial gains.
“Across all measures, the experts find that the benefits are greater when more nature is protected as opposed to maintaining the status quo,” states the release.
CfN is bringing together an ever-expanding global coalition of conservation organizations and scientists in its campaign to garner support for the minimum 30% target. The group says it’s working closely with the world’s Indigenous peoples “to ensure full respect for Indigenous rights and free, prior, and informed consent.”
Currently, “roughly 15% of the world’s land and 7% of the ocean has some degree of protection,” notes CfN. Increasing that protection to 30% across land and sea “would lead to an average of $250 billion in increased economic output annually and an average of $350 billion in improved ecosystem services annually compared with the status quo.”
CfN and National Geographic add that protecting natural areas “provides significant mental and physical health benefits and reduces the risk of new zoonotic disease outbreaks such as COVID-19.” This particular benefit “has not yet been quantified despite the extraordinarily high economic costs of the pandemic.”
The report finds that protecting one-third of the Earth’s land and ocean will demand “an average annual investment of roughly $140 billion by 2030”—an additional $116 billion over what the world currently invests in protected areas.
That level of funding will require resources from all points of the compass and all sectors, including existing development budgets, nature-based climate financing, corporate and philanthropic donations, and new sources of revenue or savings that will accrue from policy changes. And since “70 to 90% of the cost would be focused on low- and middle-income countries because of the location of the world’s most threatened biodiversity, these countries will require financial assistance from multiple sources,” CfN adds.
The $103- to $178-billion annual cost is “not inconsequential,” said Jamison Ervin, manager of the United Nations’ Global Programme on Nature for Development, but “the benefits to humanity are incalculable, and the cost of inaction is unthinkable.”
And, he continues, it’s not hard to put the price tag into perspective. “Nature provides more than $125 trillion in benefits to humanity, global GDP is about $80 trillion, and the total global assets under management is about $125 trillion. In this context, the cost of creating a resilient, planetary safety net for all life on Earth barely even registers as a statistical rounding error.”