A new study added up all the world’s ecosystem services – from carbon storage and crop pollination, to recreation and flood mitigation – and found, every year, nature provides $145 trillion in benefits. It also indicates that land use changes, most of which has been caused by humans, may be reducing these benefits by trillions of dollars every year.
To put this into perspective, the cumulative gross domestic product (GDP) of all nations as calculated by the World Bank was $97 trillion in 2012, with the U.S. topping the list at $16 trillion.
The study was compiled by a team of scientists from various universities around the world. They estimated the value of the world’s ecosystem services by assessing both their direct and indirect benefits to human welfare.
“Nature is not just a pretty place,” lead author Robert Costanza, from The Australian National University’s Crawford School of Public Policy, told Business Insider Australia. “Nature is a large and important part of the real economy which adds to human well-being.”
The team specifically looked at 10 biomes, including coral reefs, tropical forests, grasslands, and both inland and coastal wetlands. They compared data collected over 15 years, and found that land use changes have caused big shifts in many biomes and, consequently, their value to humans. Marine ecosystems showed the biggest reductions in value, which the authors attribute largely to losses of coral reefs. Terrestrial ecosystems such as tropical forests and wetlands also showed significant reductions, due primarily to deforestation and draining.
“Our estimates show that global land use changes between 1997 and 2011 have resulted in a loss of ecosystem services of between $4.3 and $20.2 trillion [per year], and we believe that these estimates are conservative,” the study states.