By Dan Keeler
Zoellick: Promoting fair value of ecosystems
In an attempt to help countries calculate the true value of their natural assets, the World Bank has launched a project that will create an ecosystem valuation model. Unveiling the project, World Bank president Robert Zoellick said the aim is "to integrate ecosystem valuation into national accounts and then scale up what works to countries around the world."
The project's backers hope they will eventually be able to offer countries meaningful and accurate techniques to assess the true costs of building on or otherwise developing untouched land. For multinationals looking to site factories or source products from developing nations, the new accounting system could have serious consequences. If the evaluation methods prove successful, countries will no longer consider FDI purely on its commercial merit because they will also be able to perform an accurate numerical evaluation of the environmental "cost." They will, for instance, be capable of setting the true cost of clear-cutting a swath of rainforest to make way for a cattle ranch against the economic benefit to be generated by the ranch.
World Bank officials are hoping the project—which will go through initial feasibility studies in Colombia and India—will eventually enable countries to accurately value their entire ecosystems and include the values in their more traditionally calculated national accounts.
While welcoming the move, Wayne Visser, founder and director of UK-based think-tank CSR International, cautioned that putting a value on an ecosystem will not halt its destruction in the name of business. "Politicians, economists and business leaders are fully aware of the havoc that our expansionist economic, political and corporate policies are causing," he says. "Despite the World Bank's best intentions, I see a dearth of political, economic and corporate will to kick the growth addiction. The new tool may show companies that the green writing is on the wall, but the wall remains, unmoved."