Submitted by Mark Smith on Fri,06/05/2015

Article originally posted in Economist Insights on World Environment Day.

Can you manage what you don’t measure?  Produce such as coffee, cotton, and oil are traded commodities that are measured, managed, negotiated and priced based on market supply and demand.  Yet, what happens when measuring things of great value that are more nuanced, more complex, not commodities, not privately owned and not traded in markets,  such as rainfall, rivers, wetlands, or biodiversity?

Designed for the World Forum on Natural Capital, this infographic illustrates the short-term value of felled trees to the timber industry when compared to the long-term benefits of healthy forests to society. The numbers speak for themselves, $0,4 trillion versus $3,7 trillion.

 This valuation approach is not new. Inspired by the Stern review, TEEB or ‘The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity’ is a global initiative set up in 2007 that focuses on making nature’s values visible. As Prof. Ed Barbier (a member of TEEBs Advisory Board) puts it, “we use nature because it is valuable, we lose nature because it is free”.

 Adam Smith’s ‘Diamond-Water paradox’, differentiating value and price, states that water is considerably more valuable than diamonds, yet diamonds command a much higher price. This resonates with more people than ever before.  Daily news on floods and droughts, and the loss of services we receive from ecosystems is concerning.  Securing Water, Sustaining Growth from the Global Water Partnership/OECD Task Force on Water Security and Sustainable Growth, reports the ‘monetization of environmental risks, and the ecosystem services the aquatic environment renders’ – is classed as a pressing challenge we have still not been able to address. 

 Pollution, over-abstraction, dams altering river flows, deforestation causing soil erosion and desertification, and climate change can all have devastating impacts on our water resources. The...Read more


Submitted by Mark Smith on Fri,03/22/2013

"World Water Day is like any themed global day: it’s not really to ‘celebrate’ water, it’s about getting people to pay attention and decide they’re going to take action to solve water problems." 

With this is mind, the day started well. BBC news had a series of reports about water in Asia, from China, the Philippines, India and Indonesia showing how water scarcity is squeezing food supply, how water pollution makes people sick, how the poorest people, perversely, pay the most for the water they drink. Standing by a stinking (it looked smelly at least…) river in Jakarta, a reporter pointed to the river, incredulous, and said this is what people bathe in, swim in and drink. The people living by the river, and Indonesia in this case, are paying the price in terms of health, money in pockets, lost investment and, as industries go elsewhere where water risks are lower, jobs too.

Behind the speeches by royalty and eminent personalities at theWorld Water Day dialogue in The Hague today, lies the challenge of solving real problems like these, affecting real people. What everyone here agrees on is that the solutions are not easy. This is why 2013 is the International Year of Water Cooperation. Solving water problems means cooperating over water. But even this is not simple.

The experts and politicians debating here have called for cooperation among communities, governments, business, bankers, farmers, industries, on the human right to water and sanitation, food and energy security, water pollution, governance, water diplomacy and ecosystems. The crux of the challenge then, people are saying, is to translate this web of issues into a post-2014 development agenda for water that politicians will come to bat for. HRH The Prince of Orange, HRH Prince El Hassan bin Talal of Jordan, President Ellen Johnson...Read more