Biodiversity: Priceless, but what’s it worth?

Handbook of Biodiversity Valuation: A Guide for Policy Makers
OECD Observer

Biodiversity conservation is often hard to implement as a policy priority simply because there are measurement and valuation problems–it defies easy description and quantification and cannot easily be built into, say, measurements of GDP. Increasing development pressures have led to an unprecedented rate of biodiversity loss, yet what cannot be quantified is all too easy to disregard.

The absence of an economic value for biodiversity has meant that many biological resources have failed to compete with the forces that are damaging them. This OECD handbook is concerned with the ways in which value an be attached to biodiversity and, in particular, with the procedures and results of applying economic values.

Economic valuation has a sound theoretical foundation that can help clarify the trade-offs implicit in public policy, and can assess the biodiversity impacts of, say, investments in road building or a new factory or housing development. It can help determine legal damages, set charges, taxes and fines, help limit or ban trade in endangered species, and so on.

Valuation is not an easy task. Studies take time and cost money, and the number of possible values necessary for a complete understanding of the total economic valuation of biodiversity makes the work rather complex. A controversial but important response to this problem is examined in the handbook. By a practice known as benefits transfer, results are “borrowed” from existing studies and used in new studies to estimate the economic value of a similar environmental change. For example, the known benefits of a forest in Indonesia might be used to estimate the unknown benefits of a forest in Malaysia. This facilitates “rapid appraisals” of biodiversity worth, but introduces a range of methodological challenges.

Economic approaches do not answer all the questions. Some people want priorities for conservation sorted out by a legislature and a political process, based on what is morally justified. But economic approaches should play a prominent role in any policy mix. After all, economic forces are often the reason why biodiversity is severely threatened in the first place.

©OECD Observer No 234, October 2002

Economic data


Stay up-to-date with the latest news from the OECD by signing up for our e-newsletter :

Twitter feed

Suscribe now

<b>Subscribe now!</b>

To receive your exclusive paper editions delivered to you directly

Online edition
Previous editions

Don't miss

  • Read some of the insightful remarks made at OECD Forum 2017, held on 6-7 June. OECD Forum kick-started events with a focus on inclusive growth, digitalisation, and trust, under the overall theme of Bridging Divides.
  • Checking out the job situation with the OECD scoreboard of labour market performances: do you want to know how your country compares with neighbours and competitors on income levels or employment?
  • Trade is an important point of focus in today’s international economy. This video presents facts and statistics from OECD’s most recent publications on this topic.
  • How do the largest community of British expats living in Spain feel about Brexit? Britons living in Orihuela Costa, Alicante give their views.
  • Brexit is taking up Europe's energy and focus, according to OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría. Watch video.
  • OECD Chief Economist Catherine Mann and former Bank of England Governor Mervyn King discuss the economic merits of a US border adjustment tax and the outlook for US economic growth.
  • Africa's cities at the forefront of progress: Africa is urbanising at a historically rapid pace coupled with an unprecedented demographic boom. By 2050, about 56% of Africans are expected to live in cities. This poses major policy challenges, but make no mistake: Africa’s cities and towns are engines of progress that, if harnessed correctly, can fuel the entire continent’s sustainable development.
  • OECD Observer i-Sheet Series: OECD Observer i-Sheets are smart contents pages on major issues and events. Use them to find current or recent articles, video, books and working papers. To browse on paper and read on line, or simply download.
  • How sustainable is the ocean as a source of economic development? The Ocean Economy in 2030 examines the risks and uncertainties surrounding the future development of ocean industries, the innovations required in science and technology to support their progress, their potential contribution to green growth and some of the implications for ocean management.
  • The OECD Gender Initiative examines existing barriers to gender equality in education, employment, and entrepreneurship. The gender portal monitors the progress made by governments to promote gender equality in both OECD and non-OECD countries and provides good practices based on analytical tools and reliable data.
  • They are green and local --It’s a new generation of entrepreneurs in Kenya with big dreams of sustainable energy and the drive to see their innovative technologies throughout Africa.
  • Interested in a career in Paris at the OECD? The OECD is a major international organisation, with a mission to build better policies for better lives. With our hub based in one of the world's global cities and offices across continents, find out more at .

Most Popular Articles

OECD Insights Blog

NOTE: All signed articles in the OECD Observer express the opinions of the authors
and do not necessarily represent the official views of OECD member countries.

All rights reserved. OECD 2017