Monetizing Nature: Putting a Price on the OceansCatch of the Week
A marine scientist has placed a ‘minimum figure’ on the value of the seven seas in an effort to revive conservation. But isn’t the monetisation of nature a risky business?
How much are the oceans worth? About $24 trillion (€21.8 trillion). That’s according to marine scientist Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, director of the University of Queensland’s Global Change Institute in St Lucia.
As part of a World Wildlife Federation report, Reviving the Ocean Economy, the author placed an overall monetary value on the seven seas in an effort to help revive conservation and to propose new steps for its safeguarding.
In an interview with the journal Nature, Hoegh-Guldberg explained how he came up with the figure, which was based on the calculation of ocean assets such as fisheries, shipping lanes and tourism as well as the annual value of their outputs.
The report “comes up with a very large number despite the fact that we can’t value the many intangibles: production of sand along coastlines, the value of oceans in terms of their contribution to cultures, and so on,” he said.
“We don’t make any apologies for the fact that we can’t get the real value. But we can get a number which we know is the minimum, and in this case it is a very large number . . . I’ve been involved in collaborations in the past with government, and you really do need defendable numbers.”
At that figure, the oceanic economy would be the seventh largest in the world, on a par with the drought-ridden state of California.
This economic approach to science isn’t new. As much of the political will that underpinned environmental advocacy in previous decades declines, sections of the green community have often called for more tangible illustrations of the economic contribution of nature and its services. Some have gone further than broad value calculations and suggested establishing tradable prices for ecosystem services, using the rather risky argument that markets might succeed where politics has not.
The question is: should scientists be playing the role of economists?
“Being a natural scientist, I’m suspicious of economists. But when you look at different numbers … this is not too far off what other people have found in terms of components of the total value,” Hoegh-Guldberg said.
“I think it’s about communicating with different audiences. When you think about it, the ocean is like an asset. People get that. People have bank balances. Corporations have their spreadsheets. It’s not a big change in direction. It is trying to get that dialogue going in terms that the wider community will understand.”
Ove Hoegh-Guldberg is one of Australia’s leading marine scientists and director of the University of Queensland’s Global Change Institute in St Lucia. He is also the lead author of Reviving the Ocean Economy, a report published on 23 April by the conservation group WWF, which attempts to estimate the value of the ocean and proposes steps for its safeguarding.
(Read his full interview in Nature.com.)