Making nature count

Since the beginning of time, we have treated nature as a free and endless provider of services. We hike in forests, swim in oceans and use its resources without a second thought. But even if we don’t pay for these goods and services, their value is far from zero.

In fact, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced many of us to realize that we have taken nature for granted for far too long.

But why have we acted as if nature is free and endless? Part of it has to do with the measure of progress we use. For the past 75 years, policymakers have been using Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as a measure of success and wellbeing.

While GDP is a good measure of economic performance, it has its limits. It does not take into account the value of our natural resources or ecosystems. In an extreme example, if we cut down millions of hectares of forests and sell the wood, GDP will go up. But we well know that cutting down millions of hectares of forests is not without grave consequences.

Statistics like GDP are the lens through which we view the world and form our policies. That said, the climate and biodiversity crises are clear warning signs that we need a change in the statistics we use. Luckily, a change is coming and not a moment too soon.

This month, the United Nations Statistical Commission will adopt a new framework which enables countries to go beyond GDP and finally make nature count. The System of Environmental-Economic Accounting – Ecosystem Accounting (SEEA EA) will enable countries to measure their natural capital and understand the immense contributions of nature to our prosperity and the importance of protecting it.

By complementing GDP with statistics from the SEEA EA, policymakers will be able to make better economic decisions about natural resources and ecosystems, something that is essential for a green COVID-19 recovery.