Socio-economic importance of ecosystem services in the Nordic Countries

Synthesis in the context of The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB)

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Nature provides a range of benefits (ecosystem services) that underpin human and socio-economic well-being. Many of these benefits – and the associated economic values – are not acknowledged in decision-making. As a result, nature remains almost invisible in the political and individual choices made. This report presents a synthesis of the socio-economic importance of ecosystem services in the Nordic countries. The study was initiated by the Nordic Council of Ministers (NCM) and the NCM Finnish Presidency in 2011, following in the footsteps of The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) initiative. The study reveals that Nordic ecosystems play an integral role in supporting socio-economic wellbeing. However, a number of gaps in the existing information base still need to be addressed to ensure that these benefits are fully integrated into the Nordic decision-making processes.



Understanding and assessing the value of nature

Many of the values associated with benefits people obtain from nature (outlined in Chapter 4 above) are not acknowledged and/or accounted for in decision-making (TEEB 2010). The short-term, immediate economic gains of exploiting natural capital often tend to override the longterm welfare benefits of conservation and sustainable use simply because the latter are less tangible and not registered within our socioeconomic framework. In other words, the values provided by ecosystems and biodiversity are broader than what is currently captured by the markets, resulting in significant undervaluation of the overall benefits nature provides to people. While some ecosystem services, such as most provisioning services, are traded in – and hence valued by – the markets, most do not have corresponding markets or prices. Moreover, many economic actors, including both individuals and companies, benefit from biodiversity and ecosystem services without paying any regard to – or providing any compensation for – the maintenance of those services. Consequently, a majority of the benefits provided by nature remain invisible to both policy- and decision-making and the society as a whole. This is the case, for example, with economic gains associated with the maintenance of different regulating services, such as climate and water regulation and mitigation of natural hazards (see Section 5.3 below). Consequently, when trade-offs between conservation and other policy objectives, such as agriculture, infrastructure and economic development, are being considered the final decision often favours the latter, at the expense of the environment, local communities and broader society.


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