Put the money where the ecosystem is

Researchers: ecosystems must be accounted for

Research has shown that the seed weight per plant can increase with over 80 percent when pollinated by bumble bees. Photo: B. Christensen/Azote
The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment documented the importance of ecosystem services, acknowledging the importance of including them in national systems of economic accounts.
 
In their Environmental and Resource Economics-published paper Accounting for Ecosystems, centre-affiliated researchers Karl-Göran Mäler, Åsa Jansson and Sara Aniyar have shown how ecosystems can be included in wealth measurements.

- The extensive development of valuation techniques has made it possible to include ecosystem services into accounting systems, says Mäler, who together with his co-authors works at The Beijer Institute of Ecological Economics, one of the institutes behind the Stockholm Resilience Centre.
 
Breaking abstract models into workable terms
One of the major challenges in accounting for ecosystems is how to transform often abstract calculation models into workable and quantifiable systems. In order to do this, the three researchers have identified the necessary parameters for tangible measurements.

- We need to define the size of the system, including how many stocks are relevant to the system, as well as estimating the accounting prize and growth functions for each stock, Mäler says.
 
Measuring profits from a bumble bee
One of the examples of measuring ecosystem values, is the relation between the North American rapeseed (Canola) and bumble bees. Research has shown that the seed weight per plant can increase with over 80 percent when pollinated by bumble bees that thrive in open crop landscapes.
 
- By using a GIS (Arv View) and information on area and the geographic location of Canola fields, we could then place 3000 metres radius circles around the Canola fields and calculate the pollination potential in each circle. By changing the land use according to future land use forecasts, we can then estimate the change on the pollination potential of the crop, Åsa Jansson says.
 
A similar approach showed how forest-based pollinators increased Costa Rican coffee plantations by 20 percent or approximately USD 60 000 between 2000 and 2003.
 
No size fits all. Yet.
Mäler, Aniyar and Jansson conclude their research that for now, it is impossible to design a standardised model for building a wealth-based accounting system for ecosystems. However, the potential is there.
 
- It is often said that the major problem of including ecosystem services into the accounting framework is the difficulty of valuing the services themselves. We don´t believe that. The development of valuation techniques has been phenomenal over the last 30 years, and although these systems have not been specifically developed for estimating accounting prices, we believe that they can easily be adapted, they say.

Source: Mäler, K.-G., Aniyar, S., Jansson. Å., 2008, Accounting for Ecosystems. Environmental and Resource Economics DOI 10.1007/s10640-008-9234-8 online October 2008.

Reference

Citation

Mäler, K.-G., Aniyar, S., Jansson. Å., 2008, Accounting for Ecosystems. Environmental and Resource Economics DOI 10.1007/s10640-008-9234-8 online October 2008.

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