Who should value nature? Interview with Pavan Sukhdev

Is valuing nature as natural capital the way to reduce environmental degradation or a dangerous distraction that will commodify the environment? Alongside debates on if we should value natural capital is another question that is very rarely asked: who should value nature?

This exclusive interview with Pavan Sukhdev is from the report Who should value nature? by Dario Kenner (Why Green Economy?) published by the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) in December 2014. The report explores how different stakeholders value the environment (ranging from consultancies firms, academics, conservation NGOs to indigenous peoples) and the challenge of identifying who should be involved in valuation in developing countries. Read the report © ICAEW 2014


Pavan Sukhdev 1Interview with Pavan Sukhdev, CEO GIST Advisory, United Nations Environment Programme Goodwill Ambassador and TEEB study leader

The research by the Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) project is recognised as one of the key global initiatives advocating for the economic valuation of nature.

1) Explain why you think nature should/should not be valued?

Humans conserve what they value. However, human society today has become so mesmerized with the supremacy of markets, falsely projected by some as the answer to everything, that it often assumes that only prices (market values) represent value. This is or course not true, because markets only trade and price private claims, whereas the public services that nature delivers have no prices – and indeed they should not. But policy–makers respond primarily  to economic arguments. And the economic invisibility of nature is a root cause of the problem of ecosystem degradation and biodiversity loss. Valuing nature’s services, making them economically visible, is an important part of the solution.

2) Who should be involved in valuing nature in your country? Who should not be involved? e.g. government, accountants, business, indigenous peoples…

Valuation is a human institution, and “who values”, or who is the agent of valuation,  is a vital question. From a human rights perspectives, it is those who are closest and most dependent on those ecosystems whose valuation matters most. However,  provincial and national governments may argue otherwise from an economic or governance perspective. So it is for society at large to decide whose valuation counts. We can only be certain that all these valuations will be different.

3) How do you think different stakeholders including governments, companies, and indigenous peoples will value nature? e.g. are certain stakeholders more likely to use monetary or non-monetary values?

Different agents value nature’s services differently, and using different forms of valuation.

4) To make a successful business case to protect nature do you think a monetary value has to be placed on nature? Would a non-monetary value be as effective? 

The “business case” for nature is the business case for Enterprise Earth. It is about public goods, public wealth. But private capital only pursues private profits, not public wealth, and that is why we must be very careful how we design and deliver solutions to the problems caused by the economic invisibility of nature.

Find out more: The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity synthesis report


Do you agree with Pavan Sukhdev? See what others think by clicking on the interviews below and join the debate by adding your comments.

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