Our ecosystem services - the life-supporting services our ecosystem provides - make a significant contribution to our local economy; 2013 estimates concluded that the total economic value of all land-based ecosystem services was $57 billion per annum. Despite our image in Aotearoa as an ecological haven, the reality is a little different - we have the highest proportion of threatened indigenous species in the world. Reports have shown that globally, we will need 1.6 Earths to maintain our current way of life if we continue to neglect the care of our planet.
Why are we so hesitant to put a $ value on nature?
One way to start caring for nature is to put a $ value on its benefits. Conservationists have traditionally been reluctant to do this as it’s commonly seen as “priceless” with its value being emotional rather than financial. Placing a common price tag on nature, has been seen by many to sully this precious taonga, a boorish symbol that undermines the place that nature has in so many of our hearts.
But this sentiment is changing and rightly so. The conversation around environmental protection and conservation and the value of nature can no longer be conducted around emotions and intangible benefits, rather we must talk the language of financiers, portfolio owners and asset managers - those who play a pivotal role in the investment required to protect this precious asset.
How nature underpins wealth and economic activity
The linkages between nature, economic success and human wellbeing are now being recognised and the work to value nature in a language that is commonly understood across our society must be accelerated. Systemic change that aligns economic and financial systems so that we reward and promote sustainable solutions is paramount.
In Aotearoa, this transitional journey is already underway. In 2019 the first System of Environmental Economic Accounting (SEEA) report was published by the government and will be issued annually. This is an important first step to help us better understand how the environment underpins wealth and economic activity.
The RMA reform process, the development of the Strategic Planning Act and the switch to an outcome-focused Natural and Build Environments Act presents a strong opportunity for Aotearoa to look more holistically at development potential, decarbonisation needs and environmental protection.
Te Mana o Te Taiao (National Biodiversity Strategy) sets out a clear framework for action to protect and enhance our biodiversity as well as the importance of this to our society. What is striking, but perhaps not surprising is that the work programme associated with the successful implementation of that strategy is huge.