Study Shows Investing in Nature More Valuable than Gold (Literally)

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Photo via Corbis

If 'moral prerogative' isn't reason enough to invest in protecting nature, here's another one: it's just been found to bring up to hundredfold return on capital. Yes, that's a potential 10000% gain--better than an investment in gold. According to a new study called The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB), putting money into protecting wetlands, coral reefs, and forests could be the best financial move one could ever make.

A Valuable Investment: Preserving 'Ecosystem Services'
The BBC reports that this is the first such comprehensive study aimed at evaluating what they term "ecosystem services", or the "things that parts of the natural world do for free, such as purifying drinking water or protecting coasts from storms - on a systematic and global basis."

TEEB involved rounding up over 1,100 studies done on ecosystems around the world, and analyzing the distinct ecosystem services they each offer. The conclusion? Well, as the study's leader, Deutsche Bank economist Pavan Sukhdev says: "with protected areas, for example, no matter how you slice the figures up you come up with a ratio of benefits to costs that's between 25-to-one and 100-to-one."

That's what you call a sound investment.

This is truly fascinating news. The report looks into the distinct, tangible financial gains investors stand to make--which is, as we all know, a far more compelling incentive to attract widespread interest in the causes. However, the primary aim of the study is to grab the attention of policymakers, in hopes that they may be persuaded to invest in conservation as well.

A Better Investment Than Gold
And there's a reason they're so emphatic about their findings--because there's such a clear case for conservation investment. For instance, the cost in lost "ecosystem services" of continuing deforestation is $2-3 trillion a year--way more than the financial meltdown cost.

And underwater ecosystems paint a similar picture. Sukhdev explains: "If we were to expand marine protection from less than 1% to 30%, say, what would that cost? Establishing reserves, policing them and so on, would cost about $40-50bn per year - and the annual benefit would be about $4-5 trillion." The profit would come from increased tourism, better fishing yields, and via the powerful protection reefs offer shorelines from storms.

Here are a few more examples of investment opportunities offered by nature from the report, via the BBC:

  • a Costa Rican study showing that areas of intact forest increase the yield of coffee farms by 20% because they shelter pollinating insects

  • a grassland conservation area in New Zealand that supplies the Otago region with free water that would cost $100m per year to bring in from elsewhere

  • in Vietnam, planting and protecting nearly 12,000 hectares of mangroves cost the government $1.1m but saved annual expenditures on dyke maintenance of $7.3m

There's always been a strong case for investing in conservation, and historically it's been considered a moral imperative. Now, we can see the benefits in a whole new light: in dollar signs.

More on Investing in Nature
Ecological Stimulus Package: Investing In Natural Capital
Green Investing : By the Numbers

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