Accounting for the increasing benefits from scarce ecosystems

Peer Reviewed
7 March 2024

As people get richer, and ecosystem services scarcer, policy-relevant estimates of ecosystem value must rise

M. A. Drupp, M. C. Hänsel, E. P. Fenichel, M. Freeman, C. Gollier, B. Groom, G. M. Heal, P. H. Howard, A. Millner, F. C. Moore, F. Nesje, M. F. Quaas, S. Smulders, T. Sterner, C. Traeger, F. Venmans

Governments are catching up with economic theory and practice by increasingly integrating ecosystem service values into national planning processes, including benefit-cost analyses of public policies. Such analyses require information not only about today’s benefits from ecosystem services but also on how benefits change over time. We address a key limitation of existing policy guidance, which assumes that benefits from ecosystem services remain unchanged. We provide a practical rule that is grounded in economic theory and evidence-based as a guideline for how benefits change over time: They rise as societies get richer and even more so when ecosystem services are declining. Our proposal will correct a substantial downward bias in currently used estimates of future ecosystem service values. This will help governments to reflect the importance of ecosystems more accurately in benefit-cost analyses and policy decisions they inform.

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Drupp, M. A., Hänsel, M. C., Fenichel, E. P., Freeman, M., Gollier, C., Groom, B., Heal, G. M., Howard, P. H., Millner, A., Moore, F. C., Nesje, F., Quaas, M. F., Smulders, S., Sterner, T., Traeger, C., & Venmans, F. (2024). Accounting for the increasing benefits from scarce ecosystems. Science, 383(6687), 1062–1064.

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Publication | 14 March 2024