Principle 2: Properly value the full range of benefits that natural ecosystems offer, and the role they play in building sustainable economies and communities

Decision-makers must be armed with this knowledge to make appropriate policy decisions, but too often this information is lacking. For forests and other natural ecosystems, the greatest economic value generated is not from products but from ecosystem services, most of which are not currently recognized in economic analysis.

The benefits derived from biodiversity and ecosystem services are considerable, but are systematically undervalued or unvalued in day-to-day decisions, market prices and economic accounting. Conventional accounting approaches and measures of economic performance (such as GDP) provide only a limited picture of an economy’s health, and generally, overlook the costs of ecosystem degradation.

There is, as yet, no standardised approach for factoring nature’s value into GDP calculations, but the most comprehensive global estimate suggests that ecosystem services provide benefits in the magnitude of trillions of dollars per year. There is much more work required on this front, but decision-makers should immediately demonstrate the wisdom and foresight to explore how they can better factor nature’s value into their economic deliberations during these difficult times.

Perhaps nowhere is the underappreciation of nature more apparent than in its link with health. Protecting natural ecosystems will in all likelihood reduce risks of new zoonotic diseases spreading to humans, mitigating the risk of another pandemic like COVID-19, which has brought the global economy to its knees. But forests and other natural ecosystems can also improve local and regional air quality. For example, at a cost of an average of $4 per urban resident, trees could help cool cities while reducing life-threatening, and costly air pollution.