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Motives behind willingness to pay for improving biodiversity in a water ecosystem

August 4, 2010

The economic value of biodiversity is an increasing consideration for policy makers, and understanding the public’s willingness to pay (WTP) for biodiversity may reflect its social value. In a recent UK survey, 27 % of those questioned were willing to pay towards improved river biodiversity, via higher energy prices from the resulting drop in hydro-electricity power output. 43%  were not willing to pay at all.  Among those willing to pay, beliefs and motives should be distinguished and considered in management decisions, such as ethical and social norms.

These results are more detailed in the paper titled: ‘Bringing social values into the economic value of water biodiversity’ (Source: Spash, C.L., Urama, K., Burton, R. et al. (2009). Motives behind willingness to pay for improving biodiversity in a water ecosystem: Economics, ethics and social psychology. Ecological Economics. 68:955-964.).

The  use of economic valuation techniques is increasingly popular within  institutions and appears in legislation such as the Water Framework Directive.  Cost–benefit techniques, such as contingent valuation method, continue to play a key role in determining monetary values of environmental change and to be used as the basis for transferred values to justify decisions. However, assessing environmental values for policy purposes requires understanding the importance of motives behind values, including ethical positions, environmental attitudes and social norms.
These motives offer great insight into how individuals perceive the environment and as a result how policy should be designed. The implication for environmental policy is that multiple values are relevant to management decisions and that monetary valuation which aggregates and assumes commensurability without cross-checking motives will fail to represent public opinion. The paper concludes that social psychology and philosophy offer a better understanding of the motives behind responses to contingent valuation and as a result alternative means of measuring an individual’s multiple values should be taken into account in order to assess the   meaning of willingness to pay.
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