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The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity: Ecological and Economic Foundations

April 2011: One of the simplest truths of life on Earth is that everything Homo sapiens is, achieves, and produces, is a gift of the natural world. A second truth is that modern economies systematically fail to recognise the first one. The combination of the first and second truths is driving our planet and every species on it to the edge of a precipice.


In 2007, The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) project was set up  and led by the United Nations Environment Programme to provide an assessment of the profound policy disconnect between economies and the natural environments upon which they rest. This resulting volume seeks, according to UNEP leader Achim Steiner, to “explore the challenges involved in addressing the economic invisibility of biodiversity, and organise the science and economics in a way decision-makers find hard to ignore.”


Written by a team of international experts including Pavan Sukhdev, Study Leader, TEEB and Founder, Green Indian States Trust (GIST), TEEB is a landmark study of the economic and ecological principles of measuring and valuing ecosystem services and biodiversity.


In his preface, Sukhdev says TEEB’s genesis lies in climate change, and emphasises the importance of Sir Nicholas Stern’s 2006 study which made a compelling economic case for immediate action on climate change. Sukhdev addresses such questions as: “Why extend a logic from the world of climate change to the world of wild Nature? Why should the complex web of life, diverse and location-specific in character, lend itself to global economic analysis and modelling?”


Sukhdev, and the volume as a whole, convincingly argue that although it is difficult and even ethically “challenge-able” to put economic value on ecosystems and biodiversity, “valuations are a powerful ‘feedback mechanism’ for a society that has distanced itself from the biosphere upon which its very health and survival depends.” Sukhdev admits the TEEB enterprise depends more on pragmatism than idealism but insists that because time is so short, pragmatism is the only available course.


This volume makes an overwhelming case for the argument that the ecological clock has run out on the economic presumption of “business as usual.” Crucial reading for policy-makers, the corporate class and citizens, it will help shape the new economies of the future. There is no alternative.


The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity: Ecological and Economic Foundations
Edited by Pushpam Kumar
Published by Earthscan Publications, 2010,
Hardcover, 410 pages, Price: US $84.95


Reviewed by Jennifer Scarlott


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