Press release 2024/039 from

Is it possible to evaluate ecosystem benefits and value? Governments the world over are looking for novel approaches. The aim is to illustrate the impacts of environmental destruction for political decision-making processes. Originally commissioned by the UK government, an international team of researchers, including Leipzig University, has just proposed a new calculation approach. It has now been presented in the prestigious journal “Science”.

The services provided by nature, such as filtering air and water, pollinating crops, the recreational value for humans, or the existence value of organisms, are being lost at a breath-taking rate as animals and species become extinct. In order to better measure ecosystem services, countries have given partial monetary value to these services. At the Tenth Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity in Japan in 2010, the international community agreed that planning processes must take into account the benefits of biodiversity.

Although the existing valuation methods for ecosystem services consider their current financial value, they do not recognise that nature’s value increases over time. “This means that decision-makers do not properly consider the future value of nature’s services when evaluating public investments and legislative changes. Our study shows that this is wrong and provides governments with a formula to assess and include the future value of scarce ecosystem services in their decisions,” says Martin Hänsel, Junior Professor of Nature’s Values at Leipzig University and second author of the study.

The value adjustment is largely determined by two factors: on the one hand, the income and hence the wealth of the world’s population is estimated to grow by two per cent annually. As people’s wealth increases, so does their willingness to invest more money in nature conservation. “On the other hand, ecosystem services will become more valuable the scarcer they get,” according to Professor Moritz Drupp from Universität Hamburg and lead author of the study. “That a scarce resource will get more expensive is a fundamental economic principle – and it also applies here. Given the current development, we must unfortunately prepare ourselves for further biodiversity loss.”

Taking these factors into account, current cost-benefit analyses must assign ecosystem services a far higher value. If only the expected increases in income over the next 100 years were taken into account, the value would have to increase by more than 130 per cent. Even higher will be the value adjustments for shrinking ecosystems.

It is vital that governments are able to assess the consequences of their decisions, as these can have both positive and negative impacts on biodiversity. The new method is aimed at helping them. It was devised by a team of researchers from Germany, the United Kingdom, France, Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and the US with the participation of two authors from the Faculty of Economics and Management Science at Leipzig University, Professor Martin Quaas and Junior Professor Martin Hänsel. “Our study provides a boost to economic sustainability research, which is a central pillar of our faculty’s strategy for the future. In addition to the scientific foundations, we also provide concrete recommendations for the economic valuation of nature in practice,” says Hänsel.  The team also advises His Majesty’s Treasury in the UK, the White House, and the German Environment Agency (UBA).

Junior Professor Martin Hänsel is one of around 200 specialists at Leipzig University whose expertise you can call upon using our Find an Expert service.

Publication in "Science":

“Accounting for the increasing benefits from scarce ecosystems” doi: 10.1126/science.adk2086

Junior Professor Martin Hänsel is one of around 200 specialists at Leipzig University whose expertise you can call upon using our Find an Expert service.