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Can the notion of ‘public good’ apply to Freshwater Biodiversity?

September 16, 2010

Last week a group of Cambridge-based conservationists published a paper in Science  titled “Biodiversity Conservation: Challenges Beyond 2010” This restated the arguments  that (1) unless people recognise the link between their consumption choices and biodiversity loss, the diversity of life on Earth will continue to decline and (2) biodiversity needs to be viewed as a public good. The timing of the paper is designed to increase pressure for more assertive action on biodiversity at the COP10 of the CBD, which takes place in Nagoya (Japan) next month.

Dr Mike Rands, Director of the Cambridge Conservation Initiative and lead author of the paper, said: “Despite increasing worldwide conservation efforts, biodiversity continues to decline. If we are to make any kind of impact, it is critical that we begin to view biodiversity as a global public good which provides such benefits as clean air and fresh water, and that this view is integrated not just into policies but also into society and individuals’ day-to-day decisions.”

Dr Rands continued: “The recognition of biodiversity as a public good is not a new concept, and in recent years economists have made substantial progress in developing valuation techniques that quantify the local and global benefits of biodiversity.”

Unfortunately the paper does not specify its concept of ‘public good’. Economics distinguishes between a good that is non-rivalries  (i.e consumption by one actor does not reduce availability for another) and non-excludable (i.e. no one can effectively be excluded from using the good).

How does the concept of public good relate to freshwater biodiversity?  Many freshwater bodies are effectively managed to exclude some from exploiting biodiversity (e.g. fish) but equally many lakes, ponds and rivers are open access and support biodiversity that is ‘consumed’ in a non-extractive manner.  We would welcome your thoughts and comments on the notion of freshwater biodiversity as a ‘public good’.

As the main driver of biodiversity loss seems to be the corporate world, driven by consumer appetites, companies need the tools to account for biodiversity in their balance sheet and start regarding the biodiversity as a public good. The Natural Value Initiative (NVI) created and developed a toolkit for the financial community to use in understanding companies’ dependence and impact on biodiversity and ecosystem services. This is the first tool of its kind enabling a rigorous evaluation of performance on this issue and a step in the right direction of incorporating biodiversity concerns in the corporate world.

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