In what looks like the most comprehensive report to date on the economic implications of protecting nature, over 100 economists and scientists find that the global economy would benefit from the establishment of far more protected areas on land and at sea than exist today.
The report considers various scenarios of protecting at least 30% of the world’s land and ocean to find that the benefits outweigh the costs by a ratio of at least 5-to-1. The report offers new evidence that the nature conservation sector drives economic growth, delivers key non-monetary benefits and is a net contributor to a resilient global economy.
The findings follow growing scientific evidence that at least 30% of the planet’s land and ocean must be protected to address the alarming collapse of the natural world, which now threatens up to one million species with extinction. With such clear economic and scientific data, momentum continues to build for a landmark global agreement that would include the 30% protection target.
The United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity has included this 30% protected area goal in its draft 10-year strategy, which is expected to be finalised and approved by the Convention’s 196 parties next year in Kunming, China.
This new independent report, titled “Protecting 30% of the planet for nature: costs, benefits and economic implications,” is said to be the first-ever analysis of protected area impacts across multiple economic sectors, including agriculture, fisheries and forestry in addition to the nature conservation sector.
The report measures the financial impacts of protected areas on the global economy and non-monetary benefits like ecosystem services, including climate change mitigation, flood protection, clean water provision and soil conservation. Across all measures, the experts find that the benefits are greater when more nature is protected as opposed to maintaining the status quo.
Currently, roughly 15% of the world’s land and 7% of the ocean has some degree of protection. The report finds that the additional protections 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.
The nature conservation sector has been one of the fastest growing sectors in recent years and, according to the report, is projected to grow 4-6% per year compared to less than 1% for agriculture, fisheries and forestry, after the world recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic. According to scientists, protecting natural areas also provides significant mental and physical health benefits and reduces the risk of new zoonotic disease outbreaks such as COVID-19, a value that has not yet been quantified despite the extraordinarily high economic costs of the pandemic.
A recent study estimated the economic value of protected areas based on the improved mental health of visitors to be $6 trillion annually.
“Our report shows that protection in today’s economy brings in more revenue than the alternatives and likely adds revenue to agriculture and forestry, while helping prevent climate change, water crises, biodiversity loss and disease. Increasing nature protection is sound policy for governments juggling multiple interests. You cannot put a price tag on nature – but the economic numbers point to its protection,” said Anthony Waldron, the lead author of the report and researcher focused on conservation finance, global species loss and sustainable agriculture.
The report’s authors find that obtaining the substantial benefits of protecting 30% of the planet’s land and ocean requires an average annual investment of roughly $140 billion by 2030. The world currently invests just over $24 billion per year in protected areas.
“This investment pales in comparison to the economic benefits that additional protected areas would deliver and to the far larger financial support currently given to other sectors,” said Enric Sala, co-author of this report, explorer-in-residence at the National Geographic Society and the author of the forthcoming book The Nature of Nature: Why We Need the Wild (August 2020).
“Investing to protect nature would represent less than one-third of the amount that governments spend on subsidies to activities that destroy nature. It would represent 0.16% of global GDP and require less investment than the world spends on video games every year,” added Sala.
The Campaign for Nature (CFN), which commissioned the report, is working with a growing coalition of over 100 conservation organisations, scientists and Indigenous leaders around the world in support of the 30% target and increased financial support for conservation. CFN recommends that funding comes from all sources, including official development assistance, governments’ domestic budgets, climate financing directed to nature-based solutions, philanthropies, corporations and new sources of revenue or savings through regulatory and subsidy changes.
As 70-90% 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.
Dr. Thomas E. Lovejoy, Professor of Environmental Science and Policy, George Mason University, said: “A stunning result: There is a large financial return if we protect 30% of terrestrial and marine nature. Protecting the goose does indeed produce golden eggs.”
Dr. Andrew Balmford, Professor of Conservation Science, University of Cambridge: “This work is extraordinary, in scope, but particularly in its novel multi-sectoral reach. As a result, it sheds critically important light on the apparent trade-offs between expanding nature conservation and mainstream economic activity – and shows that ambitious new proposals for safeguarding wild species and places are likely to enhance human prosperity, too.”
Dr. Bethan O’Leary, Research Associate, Department of Environment and Geography, University of York: “Highly or fully protected marine areas provide numerous benefits, including conserving biodiversity, mitigating climate change and helping fisheries recover. Investing in protection is like any other investment: you have to put money up in the short term to get benefits in the long term.
“For MPAs, those benefits are a multiple of the investment. Science has shown us the urgency of the problem and this report shows us a path forward. Now we just need to make the investment.”
Dr. Stephen Woodley, Vice-Chair for Science and Biodiversity, World Commission on Protected Areas, International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN): “Expanding the global protected area estate to at least 30% by 2030 is an essential policy requirement to halt the loss of fellow species on our planet. We must give space for nature. The analysis led by Anthony Waldron shows we can gain financially and economically by implementing this policy.
“Many governments around the world, including the Government of Canada, have made protecting 30% of their land and seas by 2030 as formal public policy. Protecting nature halts biodiversity loss, helps fight climate change and lessens the chance of future pandemics. This is sound public policy, economically, ecologically and morally.”
Dr. Rashid Sumaila, report co-author and professor with and director of the Fisheries Economics Research Unit at the University of British Columbia’s Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries: “The ocean is like an investment account: to protect it from the unknown and unknowable, you’ve got to put part of it in a conservative portfolio as a ‘rainy day’ investment. In the same vein, we need to put part of our ocean portfolio in Marine Protected Areas.
“The general advice is that 30-year-olds should put 30% of their portfolio in a ‘rainy day’ investment – older people should increase this percentage according to their age. By this measure alone, one can say that 30X30 is long overdue since the ocean is much older than 30 years ….”
Dr. Greg Asner, Director, Arizona State University Centre for Global Discovery and Conservation Science: “The value of Earth’s biodiversity – in strict monetary terms and in ecosystem services terms as demonstrated in our report and in spiritual and moral terms that defy quantification – is far higher than the cost and effort needed to save it.
“The world needs to raise its ambition and fund the 30% protection that science clearly tells us is necessary. The United States must start at home by protecting and funding 30% here, and it must support global efforts to do the same, including providing financial support for low- and middle-income countries’ efforts.”
Dr. Jamison Ervin, Manager, Global Programme on Nature for Development, United Nations Development Programme: “The cost to protect 30% of our planet, ranging from about $103 to $178 billion, is not inconsequential. However, 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. The benefits to humanity are incalculable, and the cost of inaction is unthinkable. This report unequivocally tells us that the time to finance nature – for people and for planet – is now.”
Dr. Beth Fulton, Oceans and Atmosphere, CSIRO: “This report highlights that doing something to protect marine biodiversity and fisheries is actually no more costly in the medium/long term than doing nothing, indeed there is a strong list of benefits. The trick will be finding the resources to help find equitable pathways through implementing the early steps.”
Dr. Bernardo B. N. Strassburg, Assistant Professor, Department of Geography and the Environment, Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro and Executive Director, International Institute for Sustainability: “The report is a very robust addition to a growing body of evidence that conserving and restoring nature is a sound investment decision. In addition to benefitting society as a whole, the report crucially demonstrates that conserving nature pays off even for sectors such as agriculture. This underscores that nature conservation should be at the heart of societies’ economic plans for recovering from the Covid crisis and can foster development over the coming decades.”
Dr. James Watson, Professor of Conservation Science and Director of the Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation Science at The University of Queensland: “We know that logging of intact areas has contributed to Australia’s record setting wildfires, and the destruction of natural areas increases the risk of pandemics like COVID-19. This important report delivers another reason to protect nature: it makes sense financially. I hope that world leaders will take note of these findings and redouble their efforts to establish and invest in more protected areas on land and at sea.”
Carlos Manuel Rodriguez, Minister for Energy and the Environment for Costa Rica: “When the Convention on Biological Diversity last convened, Costa Rica helped secure a commitment from all countries to examine the tough financial questions and better determine how much it would cost to safeguard nature around the world.
“This new report provides exactly the type of data that we and other countries need. It gives us a concrete idea of how much it would cost to protect at least 30% of the planet’s land and ocean and, more importantly, it tells us that the benefits of this protection far outweigh the costs. Now that we know what is needed, all countries must increase their financial commitments and work with businesses and philanthropies to increase investment in the protection of nature.”
Dr. Zakri Abdul Hamid, Ambassador and Science Advisor to the Campaign for Nature, and Founding Chair of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES): “With so much abundance of biodiversity found in Malaysia, and in the ASEAN region, it is encouraging to know from this report that protecting 30% of the land and marine surfaces provides more monetary and non-monetary values than the status quo.”