Engaging with the Valuation Challenge

The following article by Robert Fish, University of Exeter, is reproduced from the third issue of Ecosystems News.

Valuation, valuation, valuation! While it would be a mistake to equate this issue with the means and ends of an ecosystem approach, it is clearly an important area of innovation and interest, and let us be frank, no little confusion and critique. Members of the Ecosystems Knowledge Network will probably need no reminding that the Coalition Government’s 2011 Natural Environment White Paper came under the strap-line of “securing the value of nature”, while the UK National Ecosystem Assessment (NEA) argued that “ecosystem services...are consistently undervalued in conventional economic analyses and decision making”.

The extent to which the practice of valuation is reducible to putting a ‘price’ on nature is of course important pretext for debate. Certainly environmental economists have long prevailed upon decision makers that money is the great political leveller; if scientists and policy makers cannot reveal nature’s value in monetary terms, then it cannot expect to influence those who matter in decision making. This is a point that sits uncomfortably with some, but it is also one that cannot be easily ignored. A key concern for policy advisors and scientists is now, it seems, to intensify understanding and application of non-market economic valuation techniques within practical decision making. Among other things the valuation agenda has also led to a huge flowering of interest in development of ‘payments for ecosystem service’ schemes.

Yet it would be wrong to characterise valuation agendas as no more than an effort to ‘marketise’ the environment; to construct resource management in the image of a private dialogue between economists, ecologists and policy analysts. The White Paper for instance follows the NEA in advocating innovation in the way diverse values for nature are incorporated into decision making; the development of novel monetary valuation methodologies is just one part of what this might entail. As the White Paper explains:“taking account of all the economic and noneconomic benefits we get from these [ecosystem] services enables decision makers to exercise judgement about how we use our environment”. The development of integrated approaches to valuation is thus also an important underpinning aspiration of the valuation agenda and, precisely what an ecosystems approach to resource management should be all about.

Valuation and the Ecosystems Knowledge Network

As an integral part of the decision making landscape, it is important that the Network provides a space in which practitioners can understand better the assumptions upon which the valuation agenda is built, and what approaches and techniques might usefully help them engage with the challenge of valuation within practical decision making. The Network team are therefore delighted to announce a series of events and activities in the first half of 2013 that will help members address these issues. Members will be notified early in the New Year about how to participate in these activities.

Robert Fish (c) Robert Fish Rob Fish is a social scientist by training with research interests in the environmental aspects of rural change. His works span issues of both environmental conservation and protection, with a recent focus on imperatives for food security, bio-security, and most notably, water quality. Rob’s work is distinguished by its interdisciplinary and collaborative nature, as well as by direct intervention in the policy process. He has been closely involved with a number of strategic science policy research projects influencing government thinking in the area of an ecosystems approach and is a contributing author to the recent National Ecosystem Assessment.