The Biodiversity Bargain

NAIROBI – What will it cost to save the world’s forests and boost the life prospects of its seven billion people? In a few days, India will host a meeting in Hyderabad of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity. The assembled countries will consider how to raise the resources necessary to achieve the ambitious Aichi Biodiversity Targets, adopted two years ago at the last such meeting in Japan.

The Aichi targets call for cutting by half the rate of loss of the planet’s natural habitats, including forests, by 2020. In Hyderabad, governments will be presented with the likely costs of scaling up efforts to achieve that goal.

One assessment estimates that about $40 billion a year will be needed to halve rates of deforestation and ensure sustainable management of forests in developing countries by the target date. The cost may seem significant in a world of rising unemployment rates, with many countries still struggling with ongoing financial and economic crises, and others staring bankruptcy in the face.

But the cost of preserving the world’s biodiversity needs to be contrasted with the enormous economic and social value of forests in terms of the benefits that they provide locally and globally. Forests ensure water supplies, counter soil erosion, and safeguard an abundance of genetic resources that will become increasingly important in developing the new products, pharmaceuticals, and crop strains needed to support the lives and livelihoods of more than nine billion people by 2050. Moreover, investing in forest conservation and sustainable land use is one of the most cost-effective means of mitigating climate change.