Plans by the G8 nations to back a study of the economic value of biological diversity could focus attention on environmental degradation, or it could sink like a stone, says Camilla Toulmin from the International Institute for Environment and Development.
Trying to mirror the success of the Stern Review on the economics of climate change will be difficult because biodiversity is harder to define, harder to measure and harder to cost, argues Toulmin.
The G8 must not expect too much from economics alone, she adds, as we still know too little about the actual costs and benefits of preserving natural areas or using them for human activities.
To ensure success, says Toulmin, the proposed study must take a broader approach that looks beyond putting a price-tag on biodiversity and considers the local benefits of preservation versus alternative land uses. This should be on top of any global value derived from, for example, keeping forests pristine to sequester carbon and mitigate climate change.
The study must be pro-poor and not blinded by Western interests, says Toulmin. It must frame its analysis in terms of real development for developing countries, which are home to most of the world's biodiversity and will be most affected by its loss.