In South Africa, reversing land degradation would lead to economic gains: new study

Ecosystem accounting was used to quantify the value of nature in the Thukela River basin

Shutterstock /Jane Turpie / 30 Jun 2021
1 July 2021

A study commissioned by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and released last week makes the economic case for reviving a major river catchment in South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province. 

The report focused on the Thukela River basin, where farming, cattle-grazing and the spread of invasive alien plants have damaged fragile savannah and grasslands.  That has hampered the land’s ability to sustain livelihoods and to maintain essential ecosystem services, such as supplying water and trapping carbon.

The new study, The potential costs and benefits of addressing land degradation in the Thukela catchment, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, found that the benefits of restoring the Thukela basin would outweigh the costs. To arrive at those conclusions, researchers used satellite imagery and ecosystem accounting to map where ecosystem services are provided and thus where restoration would be most worthwhile.

“We must ensure that nature enters economic and financial decision-making,” says William Speller, an ecosystems and biodiversity expert with UNEP. “This is not about putting a price tag on every bee and tree. It is about understanding that intact ecosystems are ultimately worth more to humanity than when they are destroyed.”

Continue reading the full story at UN Environment.

Covering Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa the Natural Capital Accounting and Valuation of Ecosystem Services project, which runs till the end of 2021, seeks to advance the knowledge agenda on environmental-economic accounting, in particular ecosystem accounting. Funded by the European Union, and implemented by United Nations Statistics Division, UNEP, and the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity, project partners in South Africa include Statistics South Africa, the South African National Biodiversity Institute, and the South African Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment. 

The United Nations General Assembly has declared the years 2021 through 2030 the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. Led by the United Nations Environment Programme and the Food and Agriculture Organization, the UN Decade is designed to prevent, halt and reverse the degradation of ecosystems worldwide. This global call to action was launched on 5 June, World Environment Day. It will draw together political support, scientific research and financial muscle to scale up restoration with the goal of reviving millions of hectares of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. Explore UNEP’s work on preserving ecosystems, including forestscoastlinespeatlands and coral reefs. Find out more on the UN Decade of Restoration here

For more information, please contact Will Speller: william.speller@un.org


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