The US and Australia have signed an agreement at COP15 in Montreal, agreeing to work together to better measure the economic value of nature.
A media release by Australian Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek said putting a dollar value on nature will help governments and business consider environmental impacts more clearly, make better investment decisions, and to move to a nature positive economy.
“That’s good for environment, and good for business. If we get this right, the work by Australia and the United States could be adopted worldwide,” Plibersek said.
“We rightly value nature for its environmental and climate benefits, and for its beauty. Yet we’re not as good at valuing the contribution of nature to our economy, jobs, or wellbeing.”
The agreement will see the two countries work together on natural capital accounting to measure and report on the amount, condition, and economic contribution of nature to jobs and wellbeing.
They will also cooperate on environmental-economic statistics, as a way to organise information to help decision makers understand how the economy and nature interact, and will look at improving how the value of nature-based solutions are measured.
This will include how they help combat climate change, reduce disaster risk, improve human health, and strengthen food and water security, according to the statement.
“There is an economic benefit to protecting and restoring nature. But we need more accurate data and accounting to fully measure that benefit. That’s what Australia and the United States will work on together,” Plibersek said.
While nearly all of the world’s nations have ratified the UN’s Convention on Biological Diversity, including Australia, the US has yet to do so.
The Nature Conservancy said last month that the US’ stance on the convention hamstrings its ability to play a decisive role in addressing the biodiversity crisis.
Republican lawmakers have argued against ratifying the convention, as it would bring its laws and regulation in line with global standards – infringing upon US sovereignty, while business groups have argued it could pose a risk to intellectual property rights.
Announcing its delegation at COP15 last week, the Biden administration said Special Envoy Monica Medina would aim to secure the adoption of a “ambitious evidence-based, and transformative Global Biodiversity Framework” including a target to reach a 30% conservation rate by 2030.
“The United States is engaged globally and at home to support efforts to conserve, protect, connect, and restore nature, leading to healthy ecosystems, healthy people, and healthy economies,” a government factsheet released Thursday said.
The US and Australia are the world’s only developed countries that are considered biologically megadiverse, according to the Australian Conservation Foundation.
Responding to the agreement, the Australian Conservation Foundation CEO Kelly O’Shanassy, who is attending the talks, said it was crucial that businesses account for nature given that its destruction affects lives and livelihoods, and subsequently the performances of businesses and the economy.
“Businesses need to assess, disclose, and reduce their exposure to nature-related risks and shift away from activities that destroy nature toward activities that restore it,” she said.
She pointed to ACF research published earlier this year which found roughly half of Australia’s GDP, or A$869 billion, has a moderate to very high direct dependence on nature.
O’Shanassy said that natural capital accounting needed focus on information about the state of nature, and its relationship with the economy.
“We need accurate information so governments and businesses can plan for the future and make sure they are operating within nature’s boundaries,” she added.
However, she emphasised that not all nature can be economically measured.
“You can’t put a dollar value on hundred-year-old tree hollows or million-year-old wetlands. But these places and the species they house must still be protected,” she said.
Wilderness Society’s Tim Beshara told the Guardian that improved accounting for nature “only really matters if the Treasury is actually then going to use the data to guide their economic decisions”, and until then the proposal was “nice fluff”.
In a post on LinkedIn, Beshara wrote that there is no evidence that Treasury has ever done something like this before. “Their track record in budget allocation for environmental matters has been exceptionally poor,” he wrote.
Plibersek is set to arrive at the talks in Montreal on Friday, alongside Green Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, and independent Senator David Pocock.
In a separate statement, O’Shanassy urged Plibersek to spearhead negotiations when she arrived, as the talks were at risk of being derailed over funding arrangements.
“Time is running out to get these negotiations back on track – and the nature crisis doesn’t have time to spare – we need a strong global agreement and the funding to resource it,” she said.
“Global agreements only work if there’s money on the table for all countries to make the changes needed to halt destruction and fund the recovery of species and ecosystems.”
By Mark Tilly – email@example.com