The importance of biodiversity

For more than a billion people, the fish, a resource endangered by overexploitation, is the main source of protein; the disappearance of bees or other wild pollinators would have notable impacts on agricultural production and the value of services provided by these pollinators has been fixed at about 150 billion Euro; nearly half of the synthetic drugs are derived from natural sources.

These three examples illustrate the importance of biodiversity for human life and the need to assign a value to it so that it can eventually be take into account in public decision-making.

The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB), an international initiative launched in 2009, serves to draw attention to the global economic benefits of biodiversity, highlight the growing cost of biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation and consolidate skills in the fields of science, economics and policy to enable practical actions for the future.

The TEEB study calls for greater recognition of nature's contribution to human livelihoods, health, security, and culture by decision-makers at all levels (local, national and business to citizens).

The TEEB approach:

Impact and dependencies on biodiversity and on ecosystem services

Human activities depend on and/or exert pressure that may have an impact on ecosystem services:

• If an activity depends on an ecosystem service, it means that this ecosystem service provides "resources" (provisioning services) or conditions (supporting, regulating, cultural services) necessary for the proper conduct of the activity or its success.

• If an activity has an impact (direct or indirect) on ecosystem services, it means that through various pressures (pollution, overexploitation of resources, introduction of invasive species ...) it produces a change in parameters necessary for their existence or their preservation. The impacts can be positive if the produced changes improve the functioning of the ecosystem that provides these services.

Any decision-making process must be based, as much as possible, on accurate and objective information. This is why the integration of biodiversity and ecosystem services requires an analytical approach which primarily consists ofidentifying ecosystem services on which the activities (of the business or the administration) depend or the ones they impact. Secondly, it is necessary to try to qualify and/or quantify these dependencies and impacts. How? By analysing, for example, the relationship between an ecosystem service on which we depend and the ecosystem(s) producing this service, or by measuring the flow of materials (water consumption, paper consumption, pollutant emissions).

These first two steps are fundamental. A third step may be necessary to be able to objectively compare the projects, actions or strategies. This step constitutes the monetarism of ecosystem services, i.e. estimating the monetary/economic value of ecosystem services on which we depend or which we impact. In fact, managing a business, an administration or a country depends to a large extent on its budgets. Assigning a monetary/economic value to the ecosystem services helps in comparing various options in the same unit. This is a decision-making tool for the fourth and final stage,the selection of action triggers.

In order to estimate (theoretically) the monetary value of an ecosystem, we assign four value categories to an ecosystem:

• The direct value is the economic value generated by the direct use of goods provided by the ecosystem (provisioning services).

• The indirect value is the value assigned to regulating and supporting services that provide conditions necessary for development of human activities and well-being.

• The option value is the value of future potential use of goods and services provided by the ecosystem. This for example, pertains to the future use of plants for the pharmaceutical industry or the future use of tourism potential of the marsh.

• The existence value is the intrinsic value of the ecosystem, the value that we attribute to its very existence based on the aesthetic, moral, or spiritual (cultural services) criteria.