Fri 29 Oct 2010
Hoorah! The World Bank is officially recognizing that environmental impacts are an example of a colossal market failure, and moving aggressively to get the cost of these impacts built into country’s national accounts. To quote World Bank President Robert Zoellick:
“We know that human well-being depends on ecosystems and biodiversity,” said Mr Zoellick.
“We also know they’re degrading at an alarming rate.
“One of the causes is our failure to properly value ecosystems and all they do for us – and the solution therefore lies in taking full account of our ecosystem services when countries make policies.”
Well, super. We’ll see how this goes over when a bunch of countries see the accounts they use for planning head into the toilet – my guess is massive pushback from countries that can (China, India, pretty much the entire Global North), which means the only countries that will be forced to deal with this revaluation are those in the Global South too small to resist World Bank pressure. Enforcing this change in accounting unevenly will be remarkably unfair, if this is how it plays out. Think I’m a bit alarmist? Continue reading the article, right down at the end:
The draft agreement ministers are considering in the main negotiations here calls for “the values of biodiversity” to be integrated into countries’ development and poverty reduction strategies.
But delegates are still arguing over whether to call for integration into national accounts.
Only developing countries have to create poverty reduction strategies and development strategies. So if these values are used in these strategies, but not in national accounts more widely, we are going to be hitting the poorest countries pretty hard while doing nothing ourselves.
However, there is a larger problem here – the valuing of everything via markets. While this is an interesting effort, neither the science nor the economics are very well worked out, so the value of many ecosystem services (the goods and processes we get from ecosystems) is hard to calculate. So, will we end up only dealing with this in ecosystems where the economics and science is further along (forests, for example – and temperate forests, at that)? Or will we risk arbitrary valuations that lead to their own kinds of market failures? The first option runs into the uneven enforcement problem I raised above – not every country has well-understood forests, so only some countries would have to deal with this revaluation. The second is not an improvement on the current situation – indeed, it would give us the false impression we know what we are doing, when we do not.
Watch this space . . .