Ecosystem services are the basis for our economic system, yet we continue to not account for them in the way we price things. Our energy and water is heavily subsidised by ecosystems that we are continuously destroying.
Many people find it difficult to conceptualise that a true state of affairs can only be reflected by including costs for environmental services and their maintenance.
Paradoxically, a move to true pricing may hold economic opportunities for the us. Payment for ecosystems services represent a mechanism for investing in our natural capital. If payment for ecosystems services frameworks can be made to work it may have interesting implications.
In many developing countries many people are living in areas that are marginal in terms of agriculture. High levels of poverty and communally owned property lead to degradation of land as people try to make a living . These degraded lands have falling agricultural and ecosystem productivity.
Payment for ecosystem services present a unique opportunity to address poverty and restoration of ecosystems. Imagine for example that part of what affluent consumers pay for water is cities is redirected to employ rural people to restore ecosystems. Not only will there a dramatic increase in sustainable jobs in poor countries. It will also increase the volume / supply of valuable commodities such as clean water.
Typically ecosystems such as catchments can be restored by taking steps that increase groundcover and resting land. This can be done by paying people not to farm, paying people to reduce livestock, employing people to fix erosion and restoring natural vegetation.
These initiative need not only be initiated on a government level but may be a creative way for companies to secure resources and provide community benefits.
In a globalised world with globalised environmental problems this kind of thinking may also provide mechnisms for the developed world to incentivise the developing world grow sustainably.
As consumers we are all complicit and contributing to the degradation of our planet. As such we should all be prepared to pay more for the systems that support us.
For a South African ideas on this you can view: