Nature provides $5.4 billion a year in Greater Vancouver
‘Vancouver and the suburbs are sitting on [some of the best] natural assets that include wetlands, forests and farmland,’ says Faisal Moola, science director for the David Suzuki Foundation.
Photograph by: Arlen Redekop, PNG
VANCOUVER — In economic terms, how much is Mother Nature worth?
About $5.4 billion a year, or $2,462 per person to the Greater Vancouver region, according to a study released Wednesday by the David Suzuki Foundation and Pacific Parklands Foundation.
The report examines the extent of the region’s “natural capital” — forests, fields, wetlands, watersheds and other ecosystems; it estimates the economic values the ecosystems provide.
The report, which encompasses Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley in an area extending from Hope in the east to Squamish in the north to the U.S. border in the south, looks at the ecosystem’s benefits, such as climate regulation, clean air, flood protection and water regulation, waste treatment, water supply, pollination, salmon habitat, recreation and tourism, local food production, and air pollution absorption in trees, plants and soils.
“Vancouver and the suburbs are sitting on [some of the best] natural assets that include wetlands, forests and farmland,” David Suzuki Foundation science director Faisal Moola said. Sprawling development remains a major threat to the region’s natural capital, he added.
“And we estimated that, conservatively, it’s worth $5.4 billion annually in natural benefits like clean air and clean water. The problem is that the decision-makers often take these benefits for granted, that they have no value.”
Other threats cited in the study are air and water pollution, including run-off from urban centres, agricultural production and sewage treatment plants, which increase the amount of nutrients, sediments and toxic compounds in surface and groundwater.
Moola said that, though nature provides services for free, the benefits can’t be ignored and that’s it’s time to account for the economic value by better managing the region’s growth.
“In the last two decades, we’ve lost 1,300 hectares of wetlands, mostly due to urban sprawl,” he said. “And our current stock of wetlands stores 3.5 million tons of carbon. We estimated that carbon is worth about $23 million based on the avoided costs of the greenhouse gas emissions that will happen if you destroy those wetlands.”
The study found that the ecosystems with the highest values are wetlands ($4,000 to $6,000 per hectare) and forests ($5,900 to $7,400 per hectare). It found that the greatest economic benefits provided by the natural world are climate regulation ($1.7 billion per year), water supply ($1.6 billion), and flood protection and water regulation ($1.2 billion).
Moola cited forests on the North Shore mountains as an example of how the nature provides economic benefits.
“Those trees on the North Shore mountains are keeping that mountain intact,” he said. “If we cut those trees, we’d have to keep the mountainside intact by investing in retaining walls and other engineering to replace a service we’re otherwise getting for free.”
Bryan Wallner, vice-president of the Pacific Parklands Foundation, said the study “reinforces the importance of protecting and restoring parklands and green spaces within our Lower Mainland communities and across the country.”