Current climate targets are not enough to save the world’s coral reefs – and policymakers urgently need to consider the economic benefits they bring.
Those are two of the conclusions from a UN-backed project aiming to quantify the financial costs of damaging nature.
Studies suggest that reefs are worth more than $100bn (£60bn) annually, but are already being damaged by rising temperatures and more acidic oceans.
The study puts the cost of forest loss each year at $2-5 trillion.
Looking ahead to December’s UN climate conference in Copenhagen, study leader Pavan Sukhdev said it was vital that policymakers realised that safeguarding the natural world was a cost-effective way of protecting societies against the impacts of rising greenhouse gas levels.
The current UN climate negotiations contain measures for protecting forests as carbon stores – an initiative called Redd (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation).
Its roots lie in the calculation that forest loss accounts for about 20% of greenhouse gas emissions, and that combating it is probably the cheapest way of reducing emissions overall.
But protecting societies against climate impacts (climate adaptation) will also be a key component of any Copenhagen deal, because it is the single biggest priority for many developing nations.
The TEEB (The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity) analysis emphasises that forests, coral reefs and many other ecosystems can be the cheapest “adaptation tools” as well.
“We feel this isn’t really at the top of politicians’ minds at the moment,” he told BBC News.
“But when you decide how you invest money for climate adaptation, you should quickly come to the conclusion that ecology provides the best bangs for bucks – and that’s even without taking into account the added benefits of saving biodiversity.”
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