Time to integrate nature into national plans: UN environment chief (Interview)

October 28th, 2010 - 1:44 pm ICT by IANS  

By Joydeep Gupta
Nagoya (Japan), Oct 28 (IANS) Economists have proved that countries are paying a great price by not integrating the values of natural resources into their budgets and plans. Now that techniques to value these resources are well developed, it is time to change national planning, says UN Environment Programme (UNEP) chief Achim Steiner.

On the sidelines of the Oct 18-29 UN biodiversity summit here, Steiner told IANS in an interview Thursday: “The recent TEEB (The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity) project and earlier green economy projects have proved beyond doubt that we must integrate the value of ecosystems into our national processes.

“Apart from us, the World Bank has now linked livelihood and poverty reduction issues with the need to take these values into account, something it had not done before. These are the first fruits of our work.” The TEEB project, sponsored by UNEP, is led by Indian economist and banker Pavan Sukhdev.

Steiner said he had already started pushing countries to include natural resources accounting while making their budgets, “because depletion of natural capital is depletion of national wealth too”. Planning decisions can change once this is done. For example, if the functions of a mangrove forest to temper storms and to act as a fish nursery are taken into account, a planner may perhaps not permit the forest to be cut down and the area turned into a shrimp farm.

The TEEB project, which released its report last week, “has been transformative in this process”, Steiner said. “It has empowered conversation that addresses the major driver of environmental degradation. We can now come back with equally valid economic arguments.

“Does this mean a frog has a price on its head? No, but it shows how countries are depleting their wealth and the wealth of their people. We need to address that, and now countries are asking us to work with them” on how to green their national accounts.

India’s national biodiversity action plan has a section on how to value natural resources and integrate the results into development projects. Steiner said other countries were now also seeking similar models, and those developed by the TEEB team. “The concept of a green economy has been featuring prominently in G20 meetings, though recently its agenda has been narrowing again.

It will be interesting to see to what extent it features at the next G20 summit in (South) Korea, since Korea has earmarked over 90 percent of its financing to come out of the global recession to projects that will move it towards a green economy.”

(Joydeep Gupta can be contacted at joydeepgupta1@gmail.com)

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