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Medio Ambiente y Cambio Climático |

A project aimed at integrating the economic value of ecosystems into government policies has identified almost one billion dollars of benefits in four pilot countries, highlighting the importance of ecosystem conservation to the recently adopted 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

 The four-year ProEcoServ, the flagship project of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) focused on the valuation and mainstreaming of ecosystem services into policy design, studied four pilot countries: South Africa, Trinidad and Tobago, Viet Nam and Chile.

From soil retention services worth $622 million in Trinidad and Tobago to $166 million in savings through an ecosystem service-based disaster risk approach in South Africa, the project’s final report adds further weight to body of evidence proving ecosystems are crucial to sustainable development.

UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said, “The true value of ecosystems is frequently misrepresented in markets and economic decision-making. But the real economies that underpin our societies are themselves fundamentally rooted in the natural world. While ecosystems provide multiple health, scientific and aesthetic benefits, we must enhance our capacity to also reflect their economic value to national and local communities.

“As we take up the challenge of the Global Goals, capturing the ecological and economic value of healthy ecosystems enables us to speak to all three dimensions of sustainable development, including social equity and livelihoods.”

Crucially, the project developed ecosystem assessment tools and products to be used by policymakers to assess the value of ecosystems and to integrate this value into investment decisions and macro-economic models. ProEcoServ left a lasting legacy in the pilot countries in their spheres of governance, ranging from local, provincial, national and regional levels.  

Some of the benefits the project uncovered are as follows:

Trinidad and Tobago

·        Soil retention services worth up to $622 million annually were identified in the northern range tropical forests in northern Trinidad, equivalent to 6 per cent of governmental tax revenue. 

·        Coral reefs provide up to $49.6 million of shoreline protection services annually to the national economy. 

South Africa 

·        In the Eden District of South Africa, an area affected by natural disasters of floods, wildfires and droughts, financial savings of up to $160 million were identified in the 2003-2008 public budget. 

·        400,000 jobs can be created in South Africa from ecosystem restoration activities.

Viet Nam 

·        In the Ca Mau province, 45,523 hectares of mangroves generate ecosystem services worth up to $1,560 - 2,985 per hectare, per year 

·        Of this, up to $1,720 comes from carbon sequestration. 

·        Data from an Earth Observation System, a satellite-based information system, was combined with data on tourism flows collected from internet-based platforms to assemble information on water and ecotourism systems in Chile.

These findings, and the tools developed, ensure the project has contributed to policies integrating the value of ecosystem services.

In South Africa, for example, the role of ecosystem services is now recognized as a part of an ecological infrastructure, with an active contribution to the $93 billion National Infrastructure Development Plan.

In Trinidad and Tobago, ProEcoServ demonstrated policy intake to the Development of Land Bill before the Parliament, as well as the Spatial Development Strategy and National Development Plan.

In Viet Nam, the project’s findings were used in land-use planning at the Ca Mau province level, the National Green Growth Strategy to 2020, and the National Strategy for Environmental Protection to 2020.

In Chile, one of the results was the first-ever tourism development plan for the Municipality of San Pedro de Atacama, which clearly recognizes the role of ecosystem services in sustainable land and tourism management in one of the driest landscape in the world.