In my previous post I presented some perspectives as to how stakeholder pressure, and ‘active shareholders’, has played a part in WWF’s current campaign to oppose oil exploration in Virunga- Africa’s oldest national park.
Another interesting aspect of WWF’s campaign pertains to a report which they have commissioned called the 'Economic Value of Virunga National Park'. WWF’s Economics Advisor Tony Roxburgh introduces the report in this article- and, as is the focus of the work, describes some of the economic and social benefits that Virunga provides:
The park also is incredibly important economically and socially, providing food and raw materials, opportunities for tourism and recreation, secure supplies of water for drinking and hydropower, and carbon sequestration, for example. Should oil exploration lead to extraction in or around the park, the consequences could be disastrous, and could undermine future economic development and the well-being of communities. It is not a development pathway WWF wants to see.
In addition, he presents a clear overview of the rationale of the report- explaining the use of the Total Economic Value (TEV) model on which it is based. The tool, which is used in the field of accounting and cost benefit analysis, helps evaluate the potential benefits and costs of large scale environmental projects or developments, and inform decisions as to whether or not a project is justified (primarily from an economic perspective). Using the TEV methodology, the report calculates a financial value of Virunga, highlighting its significance as an economic asset to the region.
The Total Economic Value (TEV) of the Virunga ecosystem is likely to be US$48.9 million annually. If current challenges are addressed, the park’s value has the potential to be as much as US$1.1 billion per year. It could also be the source of more than 45,000 jobs, including existing positions.
It is interesting that WWF, as a nature and conservation NGO, have commissioned such a report as part of its campaign. By establishing perspectives on the financial value of Virunga on the basis of the goods and services that are derived from it, and highlighting the economic risks associated with exploring for oil in its boundaries, WWF have employed some of the principle approaches and tools that are more commonly associated with the world of business and policy decision making. In doing so, they have been able to develop and present a valid and creditable financial case for the protection and conservation of Virunga on the basis of its economic value.
However, embarking on such an approach has the potential to draw criticism from some perspectives- as such an undertaking can be seen as a somewhat ‘neo-liberal’ and capitalist approach to nature and conservation efforts- whereby proving the economic value of the environment becomes the prevailing requirement to justify its protection or ‘existence’. This relates to an argument which is central to conservation, environmentalism, and development in general- namely whether nature should be conserved and protected based on its intrinsic (inherent and ‘of itself’) or instrumental (based on the benefits that can be derived from it) value. (My previous blog post ‘To value nature, is in our very nature’, and external piece ‘Including natural capital in valuation methods’, offer some additional perspectives around this notion).
From a conservation perspective, the intrinsic value of Virunga is based on its extraordinary natural beauty, the existence of unique and complex ecosystems within its boundaries, and as a habitat for a diversity of wildlife- as highlighted in the Tony Roxburgh article:
Virunga is a jewel in the crown of Africa’s natural heritage. It is Africa’s oldest national park, a World Heritage Site and a Ramsar wetland of international importance. It has a wide variety of habitats: forests, savannas, rivers, lakes, marshlands, active volcanoes and permanent glaciers. It hosts more species of mammals, reptiles and birds than any other protected area in Africa. It is home to about 25 per cent of the world’s 880 remaining critically endangered mountain gorillas.
These aspects of Virunga, from an intrinsic perspective, have a value in, and of, themselves- a volcano, an unspoilt lake, a gorilla, the unique self-regulating organic ecosystems that exist in the park. WWF, of course, also develop and build their campaign by communicating these intrinsic values- as conveyed through the images and stories it imparts about the park- in an effort to foster support and endorsement for their cause. However, and as unfortunate/short-sighted as it may be (and as a consequence of a variety of reasons), the intrinsic value of places of natural beauty and biological diversity on our planet are often outweighed by prevailing economic and developmental objectives and decisions (including those with percieved social benefits)- some examples of which are highlighted in my previous post.
It is my view that by using economic modelling, such as the TEV methodology (which, in fact, attempts to incorporate some themes of intrinsic value though its inclusion of ‘non-use’ values) can be harnessed as a powerful tool to supplement the intrinsic justification for conserving a place like Virunga by providing the instrumental case (the economic and social benefits as described and quantified in the ‘Economic Value of Virunga’ report) to support its long term conservation.
Appreciating and understanding the intrinsic and instrumental value of our natural environment do not, in my view, need to be conflicting, or mutually exclusive, approaches to conservation or development. Importantly though, establishing the economic value of natural resources and ecosystems (regionally, nationally or globally) should not be seen as a method which ‘supplants’ the moral and intrinsic argument to conserve and protect our environment, but as an auxiliary tool to reinforce and highlight the instrumental value of nature, which, in the end, all economic development and social well-being fundamentally depends.
In the context of Virunga- the park’s intrinsic value as a place on our planet of outstanding natural beauty, in addition to its clear economic and social instrumental value- for the region and more widely, both now and in the future- adds up to a powerful case for prohibiting oil exploration within its boundaries, and a comprehensive endorsement for the park’s long term protection as called for by WWF’s campaign.
Sign up to show your support for Virunga at WWF’s campaign site.