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Biodiversity Loss Can Dent World Economy, Study Warns

A new study warns that destroying the diversity of animal and plant life can have serious repercussions for the world economy, with the poor bearing the brunt of the cost. DW-RADIO spoke to the report's lead author.

Aerial view of a rain forest in Congo

The loss of forest cover can affect the world economy

The EU Commission and the German government have organized a study called "The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity" (TEEB), which has been compared to the Stern Report on the cost of climate change. The first part of the TEEB report is to be published at the UN Convention on Biodiversity meeting in Bonn next week. DW-RADIO spoke with Pavan Sukhdev, TEEB project leader and Deutsche Bank manager.

DW-RADIO: Mr. Sukhdev , what is the main message of the study?

Pavan Sukhdev: We certainly have found in our initial review of biomes and habitats, like forests, that there are very large values being lost today, which would make a significant dent in people's welfare and wellbeing. We are talking about several percentage points of GDP, if you want to compare it to GDP.

What would you tell people to convince them that this is something to take action on now?

I’ll tell them that food and water are at risk. I'll tell them that the 6 to 8 percent of GDP just on forests that we're talking about is actually the total livelihood of 2 billion of the world's poor.

Herring

When fisheries close, food and income have to be found elsewhere

I'll tell them that the fisheries that are basically going to die out in 40 years time don't just mean $80 to 100 billion worth of lost fishing income, but also lost protein for the world's billion poorest people. How are you going to cure the problem of health for these people? How are you going to provide income and a livelihood to the 2 billion poorest who depend on this?

These are massive problems. These are the human problems behind the numbers that people have to be aware of.

As always, the poorest of the poor will be hit the worst, but how is this message going to affect the developed, industrialized world?

Very significantly. Growth has to come from below. If we look today at the risks of climate change and the opportunities created by it, if we look today at the need to achieve sustainability, and the business opportunities created by moving from unsustainable to sustainable businesses -- that represents a massive shift in employment.

Most of the technology that drives that shift is from the developed world and most of the new jobs that will be benefiting from that shift are in the developed world. If they don't get this, then they will be losing probably their largest opportunity to have a new industrial revolution of sorts, a revolution equivalent to the old industrial revolution, where sustainability and climate change and biodiversity create the new opportunities for the future.

So the question is who is going to get there first? The developed world or some random few countries here and there? I think this is very important for the developed world.

Very high expectations have been put on your report and some people are saying this will do what the Stern Report did for climate change.

Globe

The developed world has to act, said Sukhdev

Firstly, I'm honored by that comparison because Lord Stern is a member of our advisory board as well. But whether we can or cannot achieve that same level of traction -- that is for people to find out and for the world to tell, but we certainly are going to try.

I personally am going to try my hardest to get the awareness up and the toolkit available to people -- at least to the layers that matter. That is, the decision-making layers: the policy maker, the administrator, the businessman, and the consumer -- you and me.

What is your timetable for publicizing the results and then for continuing the work of the study?

To be totally frank with you, the results that we have today are largely for forest biomes, so clearly we need to expand our work there, and we need to make the evaluation work and the toolkit that we are preparing available in a realistic and reasonable format across the world. It's not only for forest-rich countries.

It will probably take another year and a half. What we have right now is an interim report, which will be released on May 29 in Bonn.

What you will see in a year's time is a more detailed, first draft report, which will be sent out to all the end users for their feedback. We believe that everything we are doing has to be relevant to the end-users. Otherwise, it should not be done.

We are very clear in our team that we do not re-invent the wheel, we do not do pure academia, we do not do only research for the sake of research, but we do research and compilation and assessments for the sake of putting it in the hands of people who make decisions: policymakers, administrators, the CEOs of businesses, and perhaps most importantly, you and me as consumers.

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