Group considers environment costs

A group of environmental professionals from the Caribbean Overseas Territories recently met in the Cayman Islands to share techniques by which to calculate the monetary value of aspects of the environment and the savings from environmental best practices.

As an outcome of the workshop, participants now have a tool kit for assessing how valuable environmental assets are to a territory’s economy, states a GIS press release.

The theme of the three-day workshop was: Valuing the Environment in Small Islands: A Summary for Decision Makers.

Participants attended from six COTs: Cayman, Turks and Caicos, British Virgin Islands, Montserrat, Anguilla, and Bermuda.

The workshop, which was funded by the UK Government’s Overseas Territories Environment Programme, was organized by the Joint Nature Conservation Committee and hosted locally by the Cayman Islands Department of Environment.

The JNCC is the statutory advisor to the Government of the UK on local and international nature conservation. Its work contributes to maintaining and enriching biological diversity, conserving geological features and sustaining natural systems.

DoE Director Gina Ebanks-Petrie said the workshop was geared specifically towards assisting officials in COTs to understand the techniques of calculating the monetary value of environmental assets. The aim was to equip them to advise policy makers effectively in the area of integrating environmental issues and concerns into development decisions.

Mrs. Ebanks-Petrie said that the workshop was extremely useful, adding: ‘We hope that in our respective territories we can help decisions makers become more aware that if we are to operationalise the concept of Sustainable Development there is a requirement to engage in extended cost-benefit analysis, taking into account environmental and social values, and not just the direct financial considerations of development projects.’

Workshop presenters, Ms Emily McKenzie, Environmental Economics Advisor at the JNCC, and the Dr. Pieter Beukering, programme director, of the Institute of Environmental Studies in the Netherlands, jointly developed the kit of techniques.

Speaking at the workshop, Ms. McKenzie said: ‘There are often no prices that reflect the value of eco-system goods and services accruing from the natural environment, because they are not like financial assets that are traded in markets.’

She said that although understanding the economic value of the natural environment is only one of the required elements that could help governments to make good decisions about projects and policies, environmental valuation can clarify trade-offs involved.

‘When we investigate the implications of projects, we need to understand fully the environmental implications of this decision (in financial terms). Often, decisions to support economic development affect the functioning or quality of eco systems, and thereby ultimately impact the economics of the territory,’ she elaborated.

Techniques for valuating the environment have been used successfully in a number of countries, she disclosed, resulting in an increased awareness that environmental properties can become revenue-earning assets.

‘Valuation studies demonstrate that self-financing is a viable option in many Caribbean protected areas with several protected areas now having effective revenue-generating strategies.’ She cited Bonaire and the Saba Marine Park in the Dutch Caribbean region as an example.

In further examples of how valuation of environmental assets can be used successfully, she said that in one case economic valuation studies were used in legislation to assess penalties for coral reef damage in the Florida Keys; in another case it prompted the Government of the Republic of the Marshall Islands in the South Pacific to consider a moratorium on near-shore dredging in one of the islands of Majuro Atoll.

‘By valuing the true cost of aggregate mining activities in Majuro, it was shown that the damage from unsustainable mining activities in terms of lost coastal-protection services was far higher than the cost of aggregate obtained from more sustainable offshore sites,’ Ms. McKenzie noted.

Commenting on the toolkit, Dr. Van Beukering said, ‘Economic valuation has been developed as a simple technique to reveal how valuable the natural world is to us.’

He explained that ascribing an economic value to the natural world begins with an understanding of all the different services that the environment can provide.

These services, he said, are grouped into four categories. They include: ‘Services which enable people to make a living such as in fisheries and forestry; those which support human life through potable water and clean air; and others which regulate other important eco systems such as sea grass beds and mangroves, which act as a nursery for juvenile fish.’

The fourth way of valuing the environment is based on calculating its cultural significance and its ability to provide opportunity for recreation.

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