Valuing nature

Do we need to put an economic value on nature to protect it?

We are at a critical moment. Plant and animal species are becoming extinct at an unprecedented rate. We are losing millions of hectares of forests a year and have already lost huge portions of the world’s coral reefs, mangroves and wetlands. What is the best way to protect the environment?

(Pepperazzi, creative commons)Some believe we have to start recognising the real value of services provided by ecosystems. The idea is to calculate the value (monetary and/or non-monetary) of ‘natural capital’ and ‘ecosystem services’ so that a government, company or individual will be able to factor the environment into economic decision-making.

The concept has gained increasing support over the last few years but there are critics who argue that placing a monetary value on nature to include externalities could mean it becomes “cheaper” to destroy an ecosystem than to look after it. They also say it will create new property rights over nature and lead to financial speculation.

There are still many unanswered questions. Research is taking place around the world to determine valuation methodologies and to try and understand future impacts – environmentally, economically and socially.


What are ecosystem services? Some examples of services humans receive from nature include:

  • Forests that provide timber and river basins that provide fish.
  • Ecosystems in the Amazon rainforest that regulate rainfall and capture carbon dioxide.
  • Ecosystems that support and maintain fertile soils for agriculture.

Natural capital and ecosystem services tools Natural capital and ecosystem services mapping tools




Read Introduction to the green economy for a summary of green economy debates and how it could affect your work

Why Green Economy? blog

Forest DollarWho values nature: the power to create new biodiversity markets?



(Brewbooks, Biodiversity, creative commons)The social dimension of natural capital



(Antonio Cruz da Abr, deforestation in the Amazon, creative commons)Will valuing natural capital protect the environment?



Key resources

TEEB Synthesis report mainstreaming the economics of nature

The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB)



(Katoomba Group Getting Started A Primer)

Payments for Ecosystem Services – Getting Started (Katoomba Group)



Frei Betto

Nature for sale (Frei Betto)



Money tree

Financialization of nature (Attac TV)



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