China’s wetlands aren’t just about birds. As this short video shows, they have significant economic value, providing some $30 billion USD in ecosystem services to the millions of people who live in the country’s coastal regions. In other words, the wetlands not only provide habitat for migratory birds. They are also a sort of “natural capital” with real economic value.
Scientists and economists in China and around the world are doing ground-breaking work on natural capital, working on ways to link economic analysis with environmental conservation—to assign dollars and cents value to nature.
Stanford University’s Natural Capital Project is one of the leaders in developing tools to help governments evaluate and protect their natural capital while allowing for sustainable economic development.
Example: The government of Belize in Central America worked with Stanford’s Natural Capital Project to design a coastal management plan that facilitates sustainable use of the environment, benefiting Belizeans and the global community. The project assessed how and where to allow coastal development and tourism without losing mangroves that protect the coastline from storms.
Just as China’s wetlands provide valuable fish nurseries and protect coastal communities from billions of dollars in weather damage each year, according to the Stanford project, Belize’s coastal systems currently protect the shore from about $5 billion USD in damage each year. The project’s assessment tool found that tourists spend two million days in the coastal zone and lobster catches total 520,000 pounds annually. The Natural Capital Project developed a plan that will protect land while allowing tourism and fishing revenues to increase.
Once governments around the world, including China, recognize and quantify the economic value of such natural capital resources as wetlands, it will be easier to make the case for making sure they don’t disappear.