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David Suzuki Foundation and Earth Economics

Natural water systems provide billions of dollars in services every year by preventing flooding and stabilizing the climate, among other benefits. These services are increasingly important as can be seen from the effects of climate change-amplified storms such as Hurricane Sandy. But to do their job for Lower Mainland residents, water systems need to be valued and protected.

The David Suzuki Foundation (DSF) and Earth Economics released a report today that, for the first time, estimates the value of the enormous economic benefits the aquatic environment provides for the Lower Mainland's 2.5 million residents. The region's marine ecosystems — wetlands, beaches, coastal areas, lakes and rivers — provide between $30 billion and $60 billion in economic value to residents every year, according to the report. That's the equivalent of building more than 14 Canada Lines. Nearshore Natural Capital Valuation quantifies the value of the services from aquatic ecosystems of the Strait of Georgia and the main watersheds that drain into it.

"Economy versus environment is a false argument," says report co-author Michelle Molnar. "In addition to valuing nature in its own right, there's tremendous economic value that we've neglected to account for and that we need to factor in if we are to maintain critical systems that provide low-cost alternatives to built infrastructure like water filtration plants and dams."

Maintaining nature's marine ecosystems is crucial not just for humans but also for other species. "As the recent release of the Cohen Commission report reminds us, one of the greatest factors leading to the decline of Fraser River salmon is the loss and degradation of their habitat. This study gives us additional ammunition to properly value and conserve salmon habitat," says DSF's Jay Ritchlin.

Lower Mainland ecosystems are under stress with between 50 and 70 per cent of the original wetlands in the area already lost. With up to three-million residents expected by 2020, the region has earned a provincial "hotspot" designation — a region of high biodiversity and high risk.

When water ecosystems are degraded, functions such as reducing the risk of floods that were previously provided by watersheds for free must be replaced by costly, built structures funded by taxes. The lack of market signals and incentives in our current accounting means the value of these ecosystems is only recognized when they are already lost and it is too late.

"Communities now have the tools to shift toward policies that are both economically viable and environmentally sustainable. Everything we do can be measured in millions of dollars of investment shifted toward sustainability," says David Batker, executive director of Earth Economics.

The study encourages local and regional governments in the Lower Mainland to account for the economic value of nature's benefits and incorporate those values in areas such as cost-benefit analysis, environmental assessments and watershed planning.

An interactive map lets people find values for Lower Mainland marine ecosystems.

The David Suzuki Foundation is a Canadian non-profit that works with government, business and individuals to protect the health of our communities and the environment through science-based education, advocacy, and policy work, and acting as a catalyst for social change.

Earth Economics is an American non-profit that provides robust, science-based, ecologically sound economic analysis, policy recommendations and tools to positively transform regional, national and international economics and asset accounting systems.

For more information, please contact:

Jay Ritchlin, David Suzuki Foundation cell: 604.961.6840
Theresa Beer, Communications, David Suzuki Foundation cell: 778.874.3396
David Batker, Earth Economics cell: 253-678-1563

Media Backgrounder

The study

  • The study was commissioned by the Sitka Foundation to highlight the connections between the economy and the aquatic ecosystems of B.C.'s Lower Mainland.
  • The report is a companion to 2010's Natural Capital in B.C.'s Lower Mainland report, which found the value of land-based ecological services in the Lower Mainland to be about $5.4 billion a year.
  • The analysis was conducted using spatial land-cover mapping created from several data sources.
  • Values were estimated for benefits from ecosystem services such as climate regulation, clean water, flood protection, nutrient cycling, waste treatment, wildlife habitat, recreation and tourism and subsistence food.
  • Non-market ecosystem services were evaluated by transferring existing benefit estimates from completed primary studies for a similar study area.

Findings from the report

  • The dominant ecosystem in the region is marine, covering 42 per cent of the combined study areas. Other land cover types include forest (40 per cent); riparian buffer (13 per cent); lakes and rivers (four per cent); estuary (one per cent); beach (< one per cent); eelgrass beds (< one per cent); salt marsh (< one per cent); and wetland (< one per cent).
  • The value for all benefits from the study area's aquatic natural capital ranges from $30 billion to $60 billion per year (or about $10,000 to $20,500 per hectare per year). This equates to an estimated value of $12,000 to $24,000 per person or $31,000 to $62,500 per household each year, based on statistics from the 2006 census. Representing only 30 per cent of known services, this is a significant underestimate of the true value.
    *Over a 50-year period, the net present value (the present value of its future benefits) of the region's ecosystem benefits is estimated to be between $560 billion and $3,067 billion, using discount rates of between zero and five per cent.
  • The benefits of ecosystem services can be calculated by ecosystem service or land type.
  • The study found that the most valuable types of ecosystem in the region are wetlands ($3,000 to $379,000 per hectare per year), beaches ($600 to $209,000 per hectare per year) and eelgrass beds ($22,000 to $81,000 per hectare per year).
  • The top three benefit values from the study area's ecosystem services are disturbance regulation ($3,000 to $297,000 per hectare per year), aesthetic and recreation ($19,000 to $283,000 per hectare per year) and waste treatment ($1,400 to $115,000 per hectare per year).
    Note: Disturbance regulation involves absorbing and storing water during a storm and buffering against coastal waves. A hectare is about the size of an all-weather athletic track.
November 28, 2012