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Sustaining Biodiversity and Ecosystem Functions

Economic Issues

Clement A. Tisdell

This innovative book identifies socio-economic processes which transform the stock of genetic resources and ecosystems and discusses sustainability issues raised by variations in this stock. It focuses subsequently on the socio-economics of the conservation and change in the stock of human developed germplasm and ecosystems. Particular attention is given to crops, livestock, GMOs, reduced economic value due to biological erosion, alternative agroecosystems, and property rights in germplasm. The book concludes with an exploration of the economic topics dealing with changes in the stock of wild germplasm and natural ecosystems, and discusses the associated valuation problems.
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Chapter 16: Valuing and sustaining natural ecosystem services: assumptions, estimates and public policies

Clement A. Tisdell


The valuation of the supply of ecosystem services, particularly on a global or a macro-scale, is an extremely challenging but important subject requiring a multidisciplinary approach. In recent decades, there has been increased interest in using economic techniques to value these services. Costanza et al. (2014) describes this as a huge surge in interest and points out that ‘hundreds of projects and groups are currently working toward better understanding, modelling, valuation and management of ecosystem services and natural capital’ (Costanza et al., 2014, pp. 152–8). Although the goal of such effort (namely to improve human well-being or avoid avoidable reductions in it) is commendable, it is also important to scrutinize scholarly and other efforts intended to achieve this goal. This chapter extends earlier discussions in this book of ecosystem valuation and the role of natural capital in sustaining human well-being.

It does this first by adding to the previous discussion about the contribution of natural capital to human well-being and by further considering the classification of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (2005) of ecosystem services. Attention is then given, focusing mainly on Costanza et al. (2014), to assessing the significance of recent economic estimates of the value of ecosystem services. Subsequently, some basic limitations of economic techniques commonly used to value ecosystem services are identified. The important role which economics can play in valuing changes in ecosystems is then highlighted. However, valuing such changes does not depend on economics alone. Both the biophysical and the economic...

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