Brazil’s economy has been booming. During the past decade, it grew from the ninth to the sixth-largest in the world. While this growth has brought many socioeconomic benefits, it’s come with a downside: significant environmental impacts. Brazil has the highest rate of deforestation worldwide, while pollution threatens the country’s drinking water supply. Despite a decrease in national greenhouse gas emissions of late, agriculture emissions and energy demand are still rising.
Influenced by WRI’s Coastal Capital: Belize — an economic valuation of the nation’s coral reefs - the government of Belize took momentous steps over the past 18 months to protect this unique ecosystem. For example, after the container ship Westerhaven ran aground on a reef in January 2009, the government decided to sue for damages—something that had not occurred with past groundings. The suit was premised on the forgone economic contribution of the damaged reef’s ecosystem services, a first-of-its-kind approach in Belize history. In a landmark decision, the Belizean Supreme Court ruled in April 2010 that the ship’s owners must pay the government ~US$6 million in damages.
In addition to the ruling, the government tightened a number of fishing regulations, including:
- Restricting the size limit of Nassau groupers and banning the harvest of parrotfish;
- Mandating that all fish fillets brought to landing sites retain a skin patch, facilitating species identification for law enforcement;
- Banning spearfishing within marine protected areas.
These outcomes, especially the ecosystem service-based fine, are landmarks for Belize and the Caribbean region, and perhaps for other reef-rich areas too. They should help relieve threats to the Mesoamerican Reef, which underpins a significant portion of Belize’s GDP. For example coral reef- and mangrove-associated tourism contribute to 12 to 15 percent of Belize’s GDP. Reefs and mangroves also protect coastal properties from erosion and wave-induced damage, providing an estimated US$231 to US$347 million in avoided damages per year – or 20% of Belize’s annual GDP.
WRI played an important role in making these outcomes happen. In November 2008, WRI released Coastal Capital: Belize. NGO partners put our findings in front of national legislators. Belize’s Prime Minister attended the launch gala and later cited videos featuring our economic valuation results as key to his decision to approve the new fishing restrictions. Furthermore, days after the Westerhaven incident, the Belize Fisheries and Environment Departments and NGO partners contacted and worked with WRI to calculate compensatory ecosystem-related damages of the grounding which were used in court. The Supreme Court’s ruling even included verbatim language from Coastal Capital: Belize.
Coral reefs are the “rainforests of the sea,” supporting a rich diversity of marine life. Globally, they face threats from overfishing, pollution, and human development, as well as from climate change.
The government of St. Maarten recently advanced conservation of these ecosystems when it established the country’s first national park, protecting 1,500 hectares of coral reefs and sea grasses. An analysis quantifying the economic value of the proposed park’s tourism, using WRI’s coral reef valuation method, played a key role in its establishment.
Protecting Nature for People
Reef-related tourism, including diving and snorkeling, is central to St. Maarten’s economy. Reefs and coralline beaches attract 2 million visitors a year, and tourism directly or indirectly employs 75 percent of the country’s population. Reefs and sea grass also nurture fisheries worth US$2 million per year, providing an important source of food and livelihoods for islanders.
Despite their economic value, St. Maarten’s reefs have been degrading for decades due to coastal development and overfishing. In 2010, the St. Maarten Nature Foundation began campaigning for a protected park, using a WRI methodology to show that marine ecosystems contribute US$58 million a year to the country’s economy through tourism and fisheries.
After a negotiation process, the government established Man of War Shoal Marine Park, protecting the island’s most ecologically, economically, and culturally important marine habitats from overexploitation. St Maarten’s conservation milestone also sets a precedent for the wider Caribbean region, where economies depend heavily on coastal ecosystems, yet human activity threatens 75 percent of coral reefs.
Making a Difference: WRI’s Role
WRI’s Coastal Capital project helped make the designation of St. Maarten’s first national park possible. Beginning in 2005, we developed a simple and transparent method for resource managers and conservationists to calculate the economic value of coastal habitats, including reefs.
Resource managers at the St. Maarten Nature Foundation downloaded the Excel-based tools from WRI’s website and used them to collect and analyze data on the economic value of tourism and fisheries within the proposed marine park. After the foundation made its findings public, the economic valuation provided the basis for political support.
To date, WRI and our local partners have conducted economic valuations of coral reefs and mangroves in five Caribbean countries: Trinidad and Tobago, St. Lucia, Belize, the Dominican Republic, and Jamaica. As in St. Maarten, we are using the results to build support for policies that help ensure both healthy coastal ecosystems and sustainable economies.
Uma plataforma para as empresas brasileiras desenvolverem estratégias para gerenciar riscos e oportunidades decorrentes da dependência e do impacto de suas empresas sobre os ecossistemas.
A platform for Brazilian companies to proactively develop strategies to manage business risks and opportunities arising from their companies’ dependence and impact on ecosystems.
Ensuring that development projects benefit both people and the planet is becoming more and more of a priority.
Environmental and social impact assessments (ESIA) have been in use for decades to consider the effects of projects such as dams, highways, and oil and gas development. Over the years, ESIAs have evolved to cover both environmental and social impacts, including health and human rights.
However, the assessments often study social or environmental factors separately from one another, missing the many ways in which they interact.
In 2012, important financial institutions--the International Finance Corporation and the Equator Principles Financial Institutions--took a welcome step towards promoting a more holistic approach to impact assessment, requiring their clients to address ecosystem services as part of their due diligence.
Incorporating the concept of ecosystem services into ESIA can ensure that affected stakeholders, project developers, financial, and governmental institutions understand the full scope of a proposed project’s impacts on people and the environment. But as I recently learned at the annual conference of the International Association for Impact Assessment (IAIA) two weeks ago, there’s a lot of uncertainty about what the concept of “ecosystem services” really means and how it can be applied to conducting impact assessments. It’s a good time to clear up confusion on this critically important yet complex issue.
Water is a scarce resource in India, especially in the state of Maharashtra, where most rainfall is limited to the monsoon season from June through September. The Government of India has long promoted a Participatory Watershed Development (PWD) approach to deal with this scarcity.
This post was co-written with James Mulligan, Executive Director at Green Community Ventures.
Natural ecosystems provide essential services for our communities. Forests and wetlands, for example, filter the water we drink, protect neighborhoods from floods and droughts, and shade aquatic habitat for fish populations.
While nature provides this “green infrastructure,” water utilities and other decision-makers often attempt to replicate these services with concrete-and-steel “gray infrastructure”—usually at a much greater cost. Particularly where the equivalent natural ecosystems are degraded, we build filtration plants to clean water, reservoirs to regulate water flow, and mechanical chillers to protect fish from increasing stream temperatures. And even though healthy ecosystems can reduce the operational costs of these structures, investing in restoring or enhancing various types of green infrastructure is rarely pursued—either as a substitute for or complement to gray infrastructure.
Despite America’s history of reliance on gray infrastructure, now is a critical time to tip the scales in favor of a green infrastructure approach to water-resource management. Investing in the conservation and improved management of natural ecosystems to secure and protect water systems can keep costs down and create jobs. Green infrastructure can also provide a suite of co-benefits for the air we breathe, the places we play, the wildlife we share our landscapes with, and the climate we live in.
Governments, corporations, and development agencies are increasingly interested in putting a dollar value on ecosystems in order to balance conservation and development needs, a concept known as “economic valuation.” For example, St. Maarten’s government recently established the country’s first marine national park after a local organization found that the area’s coastal ecosystems contribute $58 million per year through tourism and fisheries. Belize enacted a host of new fishing regulations based on a WRI valuation, which found that coral reef- and mangrove-associated tourism contributes $150 million-$196 million per year to the country’s economy. And in Bonaire, park managers used economic valuation to justify the Bonaire Marine Park’s establishment of user fees—making it one of the few self-financed marine parks in the Caribbean.
These stories show that economic valuation can indeed lead to better coastal policy, conserving these ecosystems and securing their important economic contributions. However, according to new WRI research, these cases tend to be the exception in the Caribbean.
Economic Valuation and Coastal Policy in the Caribbean
In the Caribbean, there is keen interest in economic valuation of coastal ecosystems to inform policy and improve natural resource management. But while the literature on the value of coral reefs and mangroves in the Caribbean continues to grow, these ecosystems continue to decline.
WRI and the Marine Ecosystem Services Partnership (MESP) took a closer look at the impact of previous economic valuation studies in the Caribbean. Out of more than 200 studies of the economic value of the Caribbean’s marine ecosystem goods and services, we were only able to identify 13 that actually influenced marine and coastal management policies, such as those in Bonaire, St. Maarten, and Belize.
Enabling Conditions and Lessons Learned
This paper assesses the policy influence of previous coastal ecosystem economic valuations in the Caribbean and identifies the key “enabling conditions” for valuations to influence policy, management, or investment decisions. These findings will inform WRI's and our partners’ efforts to...