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The value of the world’s ecosystem services and natural capital. Nature

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The services of ecological systems and the natural capital stocks that produce them are critical to the functioning of the Earth's life-support system. They contribute to human welfare, both directly and indirectly, and therefore represent part of the total economic value of the planet. We have estimated the current economic value of 17 ecosystem services for 16 biomes, based on published studies and a few original calculations. For the entire biosphere, the value (most of which is outside the market) is estimated to be in the range of US$16–54 trillion (10 12) per year, with an average of US$33 trillion per year. Because of the nature of the uncertainties, this must be considered a minimum estimate. Global gross national product total is around US$18 trillion per year.
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articles
The value of the world’s ecosystem
services and natural capital
Robert Costanza*, Ralph d’Arge, Rudolf de Groot§, Stephen Farberk, Monica Grasso, Bruce Hannon,
Karin Limburg#
, Shahid Naeem**, Robert V. O’Neill††, Jose Paruelo‡‡, Robert G. Raskin§§, Paul Suttonkk
& Marjan van den Belt¶¶
*Center for Environmental and Estuarine Studies, Zoology Department, and Insitute for Ecological Economics, University of Maryland, Box 38, Solomons,
Maryland 20688, USA
Economics Department (emeritus), University of Wyoming, Laramie, Wyoming 82070, USA
§Center for Environment and Climate Studies, Wageningen Agricultural University, PO Box 9101, 6700 HB Wageninengen, The Netherlands
kGraduate School of Public and International Affairs, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15260, USA
Geography Department and NCSA, University of Illinois, Urbana, Illinois 61801, USA
#Institute of Ecosystem Studies, Millbrook, New York, USA
** Department of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior, University of Minnesota, St Paul, Minnesota 55108, USA
†† Environmental Sciences Division, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, Tennessee 37831, USA
‡‡ Department of Ecology, Faculty of Agronomy, University of Buenos Aires, Av. San Martin 4453, 1417 Buenos Aires, Argentina
§§ Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California 91109, USA
kk National Center for Geographic Information and Analysis, Department of Geography, University of California at Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, California 93106,
USA
¶¶ Ecological Economics Research and Applications Inc., PO Box 1589, Solomons, Maryland 20688, USA
.......................................................................................................................................................... ..............................................................................................
The services of ecological systems and the natural capital stocksthat produce them are critical to the functioning of the
Earth’s life-support system. They contribute to human welfare, both directly and indirectly, and therefore represent
part of the total economic value of the planet. We have estimated the current economic value of 17 ecosystem services
for 16 biomes, based on published studies and a few original calculations. For the entire biosphere, the value (most of
which is outside the market) is estimated to be in the range of US$16–54 trillion (10
12
) per year, with an average of
US$33 trillion per year. Because of the nature of the uncertainties, this must be considered a minimum estimate. Global
gross national product total is around US$18 trillion per year.
Because ecosystem services are not fully ‘captured’ in commercial
markets or adequately quantified in terms comparable with econ-
omic services and manufactured capital, they are often given too
little weight in policy decisions. This neglect may ultimately
compromise the sustainability of humans in the biosphere. The
economies of the Earth would grind to a halt without the services of
ecological life-support systems, so in one sense their total value to
the economy is infinite. However, it can be instructive to estimate
the ‘incremental’ or ‘marginal’ value of ecosystem services (the
estimated rate of change of value compared with changes in
ecosystem services from their current levels). There have been
many studies in the past few decades aimed at estimating the
value of a wide variety of ecosystem services. We have gathered
together this large (but scattered) amount of information and
present it here in a form useful for ecologists, economists, policy
makers and the general public. From this synthesis, we have
estimated values for ecosystem services per unit area by biome,
and then multiplied by the total area of each biome and summed
over all services and biomes.
Although we acknowledge that there are many conceptual and
empirical problems inherent in producing such an estimate, we
think this exercise is essential in order to: (1) make the range of
potential values of the services of ecosystems more apparent; (2)
establish at least a first approximation of the relative magnitude of
global ecosystem services; (3) set up a framework for their further
analysis; (4) point out those areas most in need of additional
research; and (5) stimulate additional research and debate. Most
of the problems and uncertainties we encountered indicate that our
estimate represents a minimum value, which would probably
increase: (1) with additional effort in studying and valuing a
broader range of ecosystem services; (2) with the incorporation of
more realistic representations of ecosystem dynamics and inter-
dependence; and (3) as ecosystem services become more stressed
and ‘scarce’ in the future.
Ecosystem functions and ecosystem services
Ecosystem functions refer variously to the habitat, biological or
system properties or processes of ecosystems. Ecosystem goods
(such as food) and services (such as waste assimilation) represent
the benefits human populations derive, directly or indirectly, from
ecosystem functions. For simplicity, we will refer to ecosystem
goods and services together as ecosystem services. A large number
of functions and services can be identified1–4. Reference 5 provides a
recent, detailed compendium on describing, measuring and valuing
ecosystem services. For the purposes of this analysis we grouped
ecosystem services into 17 major categories. These groups are listed
in Table 1. We included only renewable ecosystem services, exclud-
ing non-renewable fuels and minerals and the atmosphere. Note
that ecosystem services and functions do not necessarily show a one-
to-one correspondence. In some cases a single ecosystem service is
the product of two or more ecosystem functions whereas in other
cases a single ecosystem function contributes to two or more
ecosystem services. It is also important to emphasize the interde-
pendent nature of many ecosystem functions. For example, some of
the net primary production in an ecosystem ends up as food, the
consumption of which generates respiratory products necessary for
primary production. Even though these functions and services are
interdependent, in many cases they can be added because they
represent ‘joint products’ of the ecosystem, which support human
Present address: Department of Systems Ecology, University of Stockholm, S-106 91 Stockholm,
Sweden.
welfare. To the extent possible, we have attempted to distinguish
joint and ‘addable’ products from products that would represent
‘double counting’ (because they represent different aspects of the
same service) if they were added. It is also important to recognize
that a minimum level of ecosystem ‘infrastructure’ is necessary in
order to allow production of the range of services shown in Table 1.
Several authors have stressed the importance of this ‘infrastructure’
of the ecosystem itself as a contributor to its total value6,7. This
component of the value is not included in the current analysis.
Natural capital and ecosystem services
In general, capital is considered to be a stock of materials or
information that exists at a point in time. Each form of capital
stock generates, either autonomously or in conjunction with ser-
vices from other capital stocks, a flow of services that may be used to
transform materials, or the spatial configuration of materials, to
enhance the welfare of humans. The human use of this flow of
services may or may not leave the original capital stock intact.
Capital stock takes different identifiable forms, most notably in
physical forms including natural capital, such as trees, minerals,
ecosystems, the atmosphere and so on; manufactured capital, such
as machines and buildings; and the human capital of physical
bodies. In addition, capital stocks can take intangible forms,
especially as information such as that stored in computers and in
individual human brains, as well as that stored in species and
ecosystems.
Ecosystem services consist of flows of materials, energy, and
information from natural capital stocks which combine with
manufactured and human capital services to produce human
welfare. Although it is possible to imagine generating human
welfare without natural capital and ecosystem services in artificial
‘space colonies’, this possibility is too remote and unlikely to be of
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Table 1 Ecosystem services and functions used in this study
Number Ecosystem service*Ecosystem functions Examples
...................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................
1 Gas regulation Regulation of atmospheric chemical composition. CO
2
/O
2
balance, O
3
for UVB protection, and SO
x
levels.
...................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................
2 Climate regulation Regulation of global temperature, precipitation, and
other biologically mediated climatic processes at
global or local levels.
Greenhouse gas regulation, DMS production affecting
cloud formation.
...................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................
3 Disturbance regulation Capacitance, damping and integrity of ecosystem
response to environmental fluctuations. Storm protection, flood control, drought recovery and
other aspects of habitat response to environmental
variability mainly controlled by vegetation structure.
...................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................
4 Water regulation Regulation of hydrological flows. Provisioning of water for agricultural (such as irrigation)
or industrial (such as milling) processes or
transportation.
...................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................
5 Water supply Storage and retention of water. Provisioning of water by watersheds, reservoirs and
aquifers.
...................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................
6 Erosion control and sediment retention Retention of soil within an ecosystem. Prevention of loss of soil by wind, runoff, or other
removal processes, storage of stilt in lakes and
wetlands.
...................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................
7 Soil formation Soil formation processes. Weathering of rock and the accumulationof organic
material.
...................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................
8 Nutrient cycling Storage, internal cycling, processing and
acquisition of nutrients.
Nitrogen fixation, N, Pand other elemental or nutrient
cycles.
...................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................
9 Waste treatment Recovery of mobile nutrients and removal or
breakdown of excess or xenic nutrients and
compounds.
Waste treatment, pollution control, detoxification.
...................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................
10 Pollination Movement of floral gametes. Provisioning of pollinators for the reproduction of plant
populations.
...................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................
11 Biological control Trophic-dynamic regulations of populations. Keystone predatorcontrol of prey species, reduction of
herbivory by top predators.
...................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................
12 Refugia Habitat for resident and transient populations. Nurseries, habitat for migratory species, regional
habitats for locally harvested species, or overwintering
grounds.
...................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................
13 Food production That portion of gross primary production
extractable as food.
Production of fish, game, crops, nuts, fruits by hunting,
gathering, subsistence farming or fishing.
...................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................
14 Raw materials That portion of gross primary production
extractable as raw materials. The production of lumber, fuel or fodder.
...................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................
15 Genetic resources Sources of unique biological materials and
products. Medicine, products for materials science, genes for
resistance to plant pathogens and crop pests,
ornamental species (pets and horticultural varieties of
plants).
...................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................
16 Recreation Providing opportunities for recreational activities. Eco-tourism, sport fishing, and other outdoor
recreational activities.
...................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................
17 Cultural Providing opportunities for non-commercial uses. Aesthetic, artistic, educational, spiritual, and/or
scientific values of ecosystems.
...................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................
*We include ecosystem ‘goods’ along with ecosystem services.
much current interest. In fact, one additional way to think about the
value of ecosystem services is to determine what it would cost to
replicate them in a technologically produced, artificial biosphere.
Experience with manned space missions and with Biosphere II in
Arizona indicates that this is an exceedingly complex and expensive
proposition. Biosphere I (the Earth) is a very efficient, least-cost
provider of human life-support services.
Thus we can consider the general class of natural capital as
essential to human welfare. Zero natural capital implies zero
human welfare because it is not feasible to substitute, in total,
purely ‘non-natural’ capital for natural capital. Manufactured and
human capital require natural capital for their construction7. There-
fore, it is not very meaningful to ask the total value of natural capital
to human welfare, nor to ask the value of massive, particular forms
of natural capital. It is trivial to ask what is the value of the
atmosphere to humankind, or what is the value of rocks and soil
infrastructure as support systems. Their value is infinite in total.
However, it is meaningful to ask how changes in the quantity or
quality of various types of natural capital and ecosystem services
may have an impact on human welfare. Such changes include both
small changes at large scales and large changes at small scales. For
example, changing the gaseous composition of the global atmo-
sphere by a small amount may have large-scale climate change
effects that will affect the viability and welfare of global human
populations. Large changes at small scales include, for example,
dramatically changing local forest composition. These changes may
dramatically alter terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, having an
impact on the benefits and costs of local human activities. In
general, changes in particular forms of natural capital and ecosys-
tem services will alter the costs or benefits of maintaining human
welfare.
Valuation of ecosystem services
The issue of valuation is inseparable from the choices and decisions
we have to make about ecological systems6,8. Some argue that
valuation of ecosystems is either impossible or unwise, that we
cannot place a value on such ‘intangibles’ as human life, environ-
mental aesthetics, or long-term ecological benefits. But, in fact, we
do so every day. When we set construction standards for highways,
bridges and the like, we value human life (acknowledged or not)
because spending more money on construction would save lives.
Another frequent argument is that we should protect ecosystems for
purely moral or aesthetic reasons, and we do not need valuations of
ecosystems for this purpose. But there are equally compelling moral
arguments that may be in direct conflict with the moral argument to
protect ecosystems; for example, the moral argument that no one
should go hungry. Moral arguments translate the valuation and
decision problem into a different set of dimensions and a different
language of discourse6; one that, in our view, makes the problem of
valuation and choice more difficult and less explicit. But moral and
economic arguments are certainly not mutually exclusive. Both
discussions can and should go on in parallel.
So, although ecosystem valuation is certainly difficult and fraught
with uncertainties, one choice we do not have is whether or not to
do it. Rather, the decisions we make as a society about ecosystems
imply valuations (although not necessarily expressed in monetary
terms). We can choose to make these valuations explicit or not; we
can do them with an explicit acknowledgement of the huge
uncertainties involved or not; but as long as we are forced to
make choices, we are going through the process of valuation.
The exercise of valuing the services of natural capital ‘at the
margin’ consists of determining the differences that relatively small
changes in these serv ices make to human welfare. Changes in quality
or quantity of ecosystem services have value insofar as they either
change the benefits associated with human activities or change the
costs of those activities. These changes in benefits and costs either
have an impact on human welfare through established markets or
through non-market activities. For example, coral reefs provide
habitats for fish. One aspect of their value is to increase and
concentrate fish stocks. One effect of changes in coral reef quality
or quantity would be discernible in commercial fisheries markets, or
in recreational fisheries. But other aspects of the value of coral reefs,
such as recreational diving and biodiversity conservation, do not
show up completely in markets. Forests provide timber materials
through well established markets, but the associated habitat values
of forests are also felt through unmarketed recreational activities.
The chains of effects from ecosystem services to human welfare can
range from extremely simple to exceedingly complex. Forests
provide timber, but also hold soils and moisture, and create
microclimates, all of which contribute to human welfare in com-
plex, and generally non-marketed ways.
Valuation methods
Various methods have been used to estimate both the market and
non-market components of the value of ecosystem services9–16.In
this analysis, we synthesized previous studies based on a wide
variety of methods, noting the limitations and assumptions under-
lying each.
Many of the valuation techniques used in the studies covered in
our synthesis are based, either directly or indirectly, on attempts to
estimate the ‘willingness-to-pay’ of individuals for ecosystem ser-
vices. For example, if ecological services provided a $50 increment
to the timber productivity of a forest, then the beneficiaries of this
service should be willing to pay up to $50 for it. In addition to
timber production, if the forest offered non-marketed, aesthetic,
existence, and conservation values of $70, those receiving this non-
market benefit should be willing to pay up to $70 for it. The total
articles
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Figure 1 Supply and demand curves, showing the definitions of cost, net rent and
consumer surplus for normal goods (a) and some essential ecosystem services
(b). See text for further explanation.
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Table 2 Summary of average global value of annual ecosystem services
Ecosystem serivces (1994 US$ ha21yr21)
Biome Area
(ha 310
6
)
1
Gas
regulation
2
Climate
regulation
3
Disturbance
regulation
4
Water
regulation
5
Water
supply
6
Erosion
control
7
Soil
formation
8
Nutrient
cycling
9
Waste
treatment
10
Pollination
11
Biological
control
12
Habitat/
refugia
13
Food
production
14
Raw
materials
15
Genetic
resources
16
Recreation
17
Cultural
Total value
per ha
($ ha21yr 21)
Total global
flow value
($ yr21310
9
)
.......................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................
Marine 36,302 577 20,949
.......................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................
Open ocean 33,200 38 118 5 15 0 76 252 8,381
.......................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................
Coastal 3,102 88 3,677 38 8 93 4 82 62 4,052 12,568
.......................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................
Estuaries 180 567 21,100 78 131 521 25 381 29 22,832 4,110
Seagrass/
algae beds 200 19,002 2 19,004 3,801
Coral reefs 62 2,750 58 5 7 220 27 3,008 1 6,075 375
Shelf 2,660 1,431 39 68 2 70 1,610 4,283
.......................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................
Terrestrial 15,323 804 12,319
.......................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................
Forest 4,855 141 2 2 3 96 10 361 87 2 43 138 16 66 2 969 4,706
.......................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................
Tropical 1,900 223 5 6 8 245 10 922 87 32 315 41 112 2 2,007 3,813
Temperate/boreal 2,955 88 0 10 87 4 50 25 36 2 302 894
.......................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................
Grass/rangelands 3,898 7 0 3 29 1 87 25 23 67 0 2 232 906
.......................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................
Wetlands 330 133 4,539 15 3,800 4,177 304 256 106 574 881 14,785 4,879
.......................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................
Tidal marsh/
mangroves 165 1,839 6,696 169 466 162 658 9,990 1,648
Swamps/
floodplains 165 265 7,240 30 7,600 1,659 439 47 49 491 1,761 19,580 3,231
.......................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................
Lakes/rivers 200 5,445 2,117 665 41 230 8,498 1,700
.......................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................
Desert 1,925
.......................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................
Tundra 743
.......................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................
Ice/rock 1,640
.......................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................
Cropland 1,400 14 24 54 92 128
.......................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................
Urban 332
.......................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................
Total 51,625 1,341 684 1,779 1,115 1,692 576 53 17,075 2,277 117 417 124 1,386 721 79 815 3,015 33,268
.......................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................
Numbers in the body of the tableare in $ ha21yr 21. Row and column totals are in $ yr 21310
9
, column totals are the sum of the products of the per ha services in the table and the areaof each biome, not the sum of the per ha services themselves. Shaded cells
indicate services that do not occur or are known to be negligible. Open cells indicate lackof available information.
value of ecological services would be $120, but the contribution to
the money economy of ecological services would be $50, the amount
that actually passes through markets. In this study we have tried to
estimate the total value of ecological services, regardless of whether
they are currently marketed.
Figure 1 shows some of these concepts diagrammatically. Figure
1a shows conventional supply (marginal cost) and demand (mar-
ginal benefit) curves for a typical marketed good or service. The
value that would show up in gross national product (GNP) is the
market price ptimes the quantity q, or the area pbqc. There are three
other relevant areas represented on the diagram, however. The cost
of production is the area under the supply curve, cbq. The ‘producer
surplus’ or ‘net rent’ for a resource is the area between the market
price and the supply curve, pbc. The ‘consumer surplus’ or the
amount of welfare the consumer receives over and above the price
paid in the market is the area between the demand curve and the
market price, abp. The total economic value of the resource is the
sum of the producer and consumer surplus (excluding the cost of
production), or the area abc on the diagram. Note that total
economic value can be greater or less than the price times quantity
estimates used in GNP.
Figure 1a refers to a human-made, substitutable good. Many
ecosystem services are only substitutable up to a point, and their
demand curves probably look more like Fig. 1b. Here the demand
approaches infinity as the quantity available approaches zero (or
some minimum necessary level of services), and the consumer
surplus (as well as the total economic value) approaches infinity.
Demand curves for ecosystem services are very difficult, if not
impossible, to estimate in practice. In addition, to the extent that
ecosystem services cannot be increased or decreased by actions of
the economic system, their supply curves are more nearly vertical, as
shown in Fig. 1b.
In this study we estimated the value per unit area of each
ecosystem service for each ecosystem type. To estimate this ‘unit
value’ we used (in order of preference) either: (1) the sum of
consumer and producer surplus; or (2) the net rent (or producer
surplus); or (3) price times quantity as a proxy for the economic
value of the service, assuming that the demand curve for ecosystem
services looks more like Fig. 1b than Fig. 1a, and that therefore the
area pbqc is a conservative underestimate of the area abc. We then
multiplied the unit values times the surface area of each ecosystem
to arrive at global totals.
Ecosystem values, markets and GNP
As we have noted, the value of many types of natural capital and
ecosystem services may not be easily traceable through well func-
tioning markets, or may not show up in markets at all. For example,
the aesthetic enhancement of a forest may alter recreational expen-
ditures at that site, but this change in expenditure bears no necessary
relation to the value of the enhancement. Recreationists may value
the improvement at $100, but transfer only $20 in spending from
other recreational areas to the improved site. Enhanced wetlands
quality may improve waste treatment, saving on potential treatment
costs. For example, tertiary treatment by wetlands may save $100 in
alternative treatment. Existing treatment may cost only $30. The
treatment cost savings does not show up in any market. There is very
little relation between the value of services and observable current
spending behaviour in many cases.
There is also no necessary relationship between the valuation of
natural capital service flows, even on the margin, and aggregate
spending, or GNP, in the economy. This is true even if all capital
service flows had an impact on well functioning markets. A large
part of the contributions to human welfare by ecosystem services are
of a purely public goods nature. They accrue directly to humans
without passing through the money economy at all. In many cases
people are not even aware of them. Examples include clean air and
water, soil formation, climate regulation, waste treatment, aesthetic
values and good health, as mentioned above.
Global land use and land cover
In order to estimate the total value of ecosystem services, we needed
estimates of the total global extent of the ecosystems themselves. We
devised an aggregated classification scheme with 16 primary cate-
gories as shown in Table 2 to represent current global land use. The
major division is between marine and terrestrial systems. Marine
was further subdivided into open ocean and coastal, which itself
includes estuaries, seagrass/algae beds, coral reefs, and shelf systems.
Terrestrial systems were broken down into two types of forest
(tropical and temperate/boreal), grasslands/rangelands, wetlands,
lakes/rivers, desert, tundra, ice/rock, cropland, and urban. Primary
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Figure 2 Global map of the value of
ecosystem services. See Supplemen-
tary Information and Table 2 for details.
data were from ref. 17 as summarized in ref. 4 with additional
information from a number of sources18–22. We also used data from
ref. 23, as a cross-check on the terrestrial estimates and refs 24 and
25 as a check on the marine estimates. The 32 landcover types of ref.
17 were recategorized for Table 2 and Fig. 2. The major assumptions
were: (1) chaparral and steppe were considered rangeland and
combined with grasslands; and (2) a variety of tropical forest and
woodland types were combined into ‘tropical forests’.
Synthesis
We conducted a thorough literature review and synthesized the
information, along with a few original calculations, during a one-
week intensive workshop at the new National Center for Ecological
Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) at the University of California at
Santa Barbara. Supplementary Information lists the primary results
for each ecosystem service and biome. Supplementary Information
includes all the estimates we could identify from the literature (from
over 100 studies), their valuation methods, location and stated
value. We converted each estimate into 1994 US$ ha21yr 21using
the USA consumer price index and other conversion factors as
needed. These are listed in the notes to the Supplementary Informa-
tion. For some estimates we also converted the service estimate into
US$ equivalents using the ratio of purchasing power GNP per capita
for the country of origin to that of the USA. This was intended to
adjust for income effects. Where possible the estimates are stated as
a range, based on the high and low values found in the literature,
and an average value, with annotated comments as to methods and
assumptions. We also included in the Supplementary Information
some estimates from the literature on ‘total ecosystem value’, mainly
using energy analysis techniques10. We did not include these
estimates in any of the totals or averages given below, but only for
comparison with the totals from the other techniques. Interestingly,
these different methods showed fairly close agreement in the final
results.
Each biome and each ecosystem service had its special considera-
tions. Detailed notes explaining each biome and each entry in
Supplementary Information are given in notes following the table.
More detailed descriptions of some of the ecosystems, their services,
and general valuation issues can be found in ref. 5. Below we briefly
discuss some general considerations that apply across the board.
Sources of error, limitations and caveats
Our attempt to estimate the total current economic value of
ecosystem services is limited for a number of reasons, including:
(1) Although we have attempted to include as much as possible, our
estimate leaves out many categories of services, which have not yet
been adequately studied for many ecosystems. In addition, we could
identify no valuation studies for some major biomes (desert,
tundra, ice/rock, and cropland). As more and better information
becomes available we expect the total estimated value to increase.
(2) Current prices, which form the basis (either directly or indir-
ectly) of many of the valuation estimates, are distorted for a number
of reasons, including the fact that they exclude the value of
ecosystem services, household labour and the informal economy.
In addition to this, there are differences between total value,
consumer surplus, net rent (or producer surplus) and p3q, all of
which are used to estimate unit values (see Fig. 1).
(3) In many cases the values are based on the current willingness-to-
pay of individuals for ecosystem services, even though these
individuals may be ill-informed and their preferences may not
adequately incorporate social fairness, ecological sustainability
and other important goals16. In other words, if we actually lived in
a world that was ecologically sustainable, socially fair and where
everyone had perfect knowledge of their connection to ecosystem
services, both market prices and surveys of willingness-to-pay
would yield very different results than they currently do, and the
value of ecosystem services would probably increase.
(4) In calculating the current value, we generally assumed that the
demand and supply curves look something like Fig. 1a. In reality,
supply curves for many ecosystem services are more nearly inelastic
vertical lines, and the demand curves probably look more like Fig.
1b, approaching infinity as quantity goes to zero. Thus the con-
sumer and producer surplus and thereby the total value of ecosys-
tem services would also approach infinity.
(5) The valuation approach taken here assumes that there are no
sharp thresholds, discontinuities or irreversibilities in the ecosystem
response functions. This is almost certainly not the case. Therefore
this valuation yields an underestimate of the total value.
(6) Extrapolation from point estimates to global totals introduces
error. In general, we estimated unit area values for the ecosystem
services (in $ ha21yr 21) and then multiplied by the total area of
each biome. This can only be considered a crude first approximation
and can introduce errors depending on the type of ecosystem service
and its spatial heterogeneity.
(7) To avoid double counting, a general equilibrium framework that
could directly incorporate the interdependence between ecosystem
functions and services would be preferred to the partial equilibrium
framework used in this study (see below).
(8) Values for individual ecosystem functions should be based on
sustainable use levels, taking account of both the carrying capacity
for individual functions (such as food-production or waste recy-
cling) and the combined effect of simultaneous use of more
functions. Ecosystems should be able to provide all the functions
listed in Table 1 simultaneously and indefinitely. This is certainly
not the case for some current ecosystem services because of overuse
at existing prices.
(9) We have not incorporated the ‘infrastructure’ value of ecosys-
tems, as noted above, leading to an underestimation of the total
value.
(10) Inter-country comparisons of valuation are affected by income
differences. We attempted to address this in some cases using the
relative purchasing power GNP per capita of the country relative to
the USA, but this is a very crude way to make the correction.
(11) In general, we have used annual flow values and have avoided
many of the difficult issues involved with discounting future flow
values to arrive at a net present value of the capital stock. But a few
estimates in the literature were stated as stock values, and it was
necessary to assume a discount rate (we used 5%) in order to
convert them into annual flows.
(12) Our estimate is based on a static ‘snapshot’ of what is, in fact, a
complex, dynamic system. We have assumed a static and ‘partial
equilibrium’ model in the sense that the value of each service is
derived independently and added. This ignores the complex inter-
dependencies between the services. The estimate could also change
drastically as the system moved through critical non-linearities or
thresholds. Although it is possible to build ‘general equilibrium
models in which the value of all ecosystem services are derived
simultaneously with all other values, and to build dynamic models
that can incorporate non-linearities and thresholds, these models
have rarely been attempted at the scale we are discussing. They
represent the next logical step in deriving better estimates of the
value of ecosystem services.
We have tried to expose these various sources of uncertainty
wherever possible in Supplementary Information and its support-
ing notes, and state the range of relevant values. In spite of the
limitations noted above, we believe it is very useful to synthesize
existing valuation estimates, if only to determine a crude, initial
magnitude. In general, because of the nature of the limitations
noted, we expect our current estimate to represent a minimum
value for ecosystem services.
Total global value of ecosystem services
Table 2 is a summary of the results of our synthesis. It lists each of
the major biomes along with their current estimated global surface
articles
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area, the average (on a per hectare basis) of the estimated values of
the 17 ecosystem services we have identified from Supplementary
Information, and the total value of ecosystem services by biome, by
service type and for the entire biosphere.
We estimated that at the current margin, ecosystems provide at
least US$33 trillion dollars worth of services annually. The majority
of the value of services we could identify is currently outside the
market system, in services such as gas regulation (US$1.3
trillion yr 21), disturbance regulation (US$1.8 trillion yr 21), waste
treatment (US$2.3 trillion yr 21) and nutrient cycling (US$17
trillion yr 21). About 63% of the estimated value is contributed by
marine systems (US$20.9 trillion yr 21). Most of this comes from
coastal systems (US$10.6 trillion yr 21). About 38% of the estimated
value comes from terrestrial systems, mainly from forests (US$4.7
trillion yr 21) and wetlands (US$4.9 trillion yr 21).
We estimated a range of values whenever possible for each entry
in Supplementary Information. Table 2 reports only the average
values. Had we used the low end of the range in Supplementary
Information, the global total would have been around US$19
trillion. If we eliminate nutrient cycling, which is the largest single
service, estimated at US$17 trillion, the total annual value would be
around US$16 trillion. Had we used the high end for all estimates,
along with estimating the value of desert, tundra and ice/rock as the
average value of rangelands, the estimate would be around US$54
trillion. So the total range of annual values we estimated were from
US$16–$54 trillion. This is not a huge range, but other sources of
uncertainty listed above are much more critical. It is important to
emphasize, however, that despite the many uncertainties included in
this estimate, it is almost certainly an underestimate for several
reasons, as listed above.
There have been very few previous attempts to estimate the total
global value of ecosystem services with which to compare these
results. We identified two, based on completely different methods
and assumptions, both from each other and from the methods used
in this study. They thus provide an interesting check.
One was an early attempt at a static general equilibrium input
output model of the globe, including both ecological and economic
processes and commodities26,27. This model divided the globe in to 9
commodities or product groups and 9 processes, two of which were
‘economic’ (urban and agriculture) and 7 of which were ‘ecological’,
including both terrestrial and marine systems. Data were from
about 1970. Although this was a very aggregated breakdown and
the data was of only moderate quality, the model produced a set of
‘shadow prices’ and ‘shadow values’ for all the flows between
processes, as well as the net outputs from the system, which could
be used to derive an estimate of the total value of ecosystem services.
The input– output format is far superior to the partial equilibrium
format we used in this study for differentiating gross from net flows
and avoiding double counting. The results yielded a total value of
the net output of the 7 global ecosystem processes equal to the
equivalent of US$9.4 trillion in 1972. Converted to 1994 US$ this is
about $34 trillion, surprisingly close to our current average esti-
mate. This estimate broke down into US$11.9 trillion (or 35%)
from terrestrial ecosystem processes and US$22.1 trillion (or 65%)
from marine processes, also very close to our current estimate.
World GNP in 1970 was about $14.3 trillion (in 1994 US$),
indicating a ratio of total ecosystem services to GNP of about 2.4
to 1. The current estimate has a corresponding ratio of 1.8 to 1.
A more recent study28 estimated a ‘maximum sustainable surplus’
value of ecosystem services by considering ecosystem services as one
input to an aggregate global production function along with labour
and manufactured capital. Their estimates ranged from US$3.4 to
US$17.6 trillion yr 21, depending on various assumptions. This
approach assumed that the total value of ecosystem services is
limited to that which has an impact on marketed value, either
directly or indirectly, andthus cannot exceed the total world GNPof
about US$18 trillion. But, as we have pointed out, only a fraction of
ecosystem services affects private goods traded in existing markets,
which would be included in measures such as GNP. This is a subset
of the services we estimated, so we would expect this estimate to
undervalue total ecosystem services.
The results of both of these studies indicate, however, that our
current estimate is at least in approximately the same range. As we
have noted, there are many limitations to both the current and
these two previous studies. They are all only static snapshots of
a biosphere that is a complex, dynamic system. The obvious next
steps include building regional and global models of the linked
ecological economic system aimed at a better understanding of
both the complex dynamics of physical/biological processes and
the value of these processes to human well-being29,30. But we do not
have to wait for the results of these models to draw the following
conclusions.
Discussion
What this study makes abundantly clear is that ecosystem services
provide an important portion of the total contribution to human
welfare on this planet. We must begin to give the natural capital
stock that produces these services adequate weight in the decision-
making process, otherwise current and continued future human
welfare may drastically suffer. We estimate in this study that the
annual value of these services is US$1654 trillion, with an
estimated average of US$33 trillion. The real value is almost
certainly much larger, even at the current margin. US$33 trillion
is 1.8 times the current global GNP. One way to look at this
comparison is that if one were to try to replace the services of
ecosystems at the current margin, one would need to increase global
GNP by at least US$33 trillion, partly to cover services already
captured in existing GNP and partly to cover services that are not
currently captured in GNP. This impossible task would lead to no
increase in welfare because we would only be replacing existing
services, and it ignores the fact that many ecosystem services are
literally irreplaceable.
If ecosystem services were actually paid for, in terms of their value
contribution to the global economy, the global price system would
be very different from what it is today. The price of commodities
using ecosystem services directly or indirectly would be much
greater. The structure of factor payments, including wages, interest
rates and profits would change dramatically. World GNP would be
very different in both magnitude and composition if it adequately
incorporated the value of ecosystem services. One practical use of
the estimates we have developed is to help modify systems of
national accounting to better reflect the value of ecosystem services
and natural capital. Initial attempts to do this paint a very different
picture of our current level of economic welfare than conventional
GNP, some indicating a levelling of welfare since about 1970 while
GNP has continued to increase31–33. A second important use of these
estimates is for project appraisal, where ecosystem services lost must
be weighed against the benefits of a specific project8. Because
ecosystem services are largely outside the market and uncertain,
they are too often ignored or undervalued, leading to the error of
constructing projects whose social costs far outweight their benefits.
As natural capital and ecosystem services become more stressed
and more ‘scarce’ in the future, we can only expect their value to
increase. If significant, irreversible thresholds are passed for irre-
placeable ecosystem services, their value may quickly jump to
infinity. Given the huge uncertainties involved, we may never
have a very precise estimate of the value of ecosystem services.
Nevertheless, even the crude initial estimate we have been able to
assemble is a useful starting point (we stress again that it is only a
starting point). It demonstrates the need for much additional
research and it also indicates the specific areas that are most in
need of additional study. It also highlights the relative importance of
ecosystem services and the potential impact on our welfare of
continuing to squander them. M
articles
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Received 23 January: accepted 2 April 1997.
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... Silvertown (2015), outlines that the decision to value an ecosystem service is still in debate between conservationists, with one side announcing there is no choice but to value (Costanza et al., 1997), whilst others urge the pragmatic decision to value or not to value to be taken with caution (Kallis, Gómez-Baggethun, & Zografos, 2013). Often what we value becomes visible but conservationists, policy makers, and academics that oppose valuation believe that what is valued and quantified ultimately becomes 'for sale' (Hungate & Cardinale, 2017). ...
Thesis
In this thesis I assess the ability of biodiversity to provide a functioning pest control ecosystem service to control moth pest species in UK apple orchards. I assess the ability of four types of farm management: organic, Linking Environment and Farming (LEAF), integrated pest management (IPM) and conventional, to measure the ability of pest predation from birds, and the impact that predation has on apple yields. I firstly describe the history and the landscape of the study area, an overview of the methods used and the farming systems that the field study and experiments took place on in Chapter 2. In Chapter 3 I assess farmland biodiversity by monitoring birds and butterflies as indicator species of biodiversity, to understand if farm management impacts biodiversity levels. Biodiversity was highest on organic orchards, which supports the plethora of studies in the literature. Using this information of biodiversity levels on orchard management types, in Chapter 4 I investigate whether this biodiversity supports a pest control service, and to a natural pest control service compares to a synthetic alternate used on non-organic orchards, through using a sentinel prey experiment in field. Pest control services were greater on organic farms, and followed the same patterns as insectivorous bird abundance, species richness, diversity, and density. This chapter also compares moth pest levels to understand the pest pressures across farms, which harbour different pest control strategies and showed that moth pest levels were broadly similar across all farm management types. Finally, in Chapter 5 I compare the farm management options available to famers, both the natural pest control system and the synthetic control system, using economic valuation methods. Although a natural pest control service from birds is present on organic orchards (Chapter 4), the yield per hectare increased significantly on non-organic orchards (expect LEAF) but is found to be in-different to yield value per hectare of organic orchards in variable scenarios. Importantly, the synthetic alternative to a pest control service available from wild insectivorous birds was found to be an insignificant farm management variable that impacts apple yield and yield value on non-organic orchards.
... The socio-economic analysis includes any aspect which relates to the restoration project and doesn't have only an ecological connotation but also human, financial, and subjective features relating to the concept of ecosystem services. Reef ecosystems have a financial value that depends also on the benefits provided to the communities through direct activities conducted within the reef 34 as well as the indirect effects of a healthy ecosystem on the environment through, for example, increased fisheries or shoreline protection [140][141][142][143] . ...
... In order to estimate the total ES values, a benefit transfer approach was used, using the modified ES coefficients for the Munessa-Shashemene area in Ethiopia, which is similar to the study landscape. The ES coefficients were modified by Kindu et al. [6] from global ES coefficients developed by Costanza et al. [39] and a valuation database of the Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) through a benefit transfer method based on expert knowledge of the study area. The modified coefficients are considered as conservative value coefficients compared to global ES coefficients to estimate the total ES values, and they were used in this study (Table 1). ...
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A minimum necessary condition for sustainability is the maintenance of the total natural capital stock at or above the current level. While a lower stock of natural capital may be sustainable, society can allow no further decline in natural capital given the large uncertainty and the dire consequences of guessing wrong. This “constancy of total natural capital” rule can thus be seen as a prudent minimum condition for assuring sustainability, to be relaxed only when solid evidence can be offered that it is safe to do so.