Investing in biological diversity : economic valuation and priorities for development
By all informed scientific accounts the world's biological diversity is currently in a critical condition. Biodiversity is vital for the continued existence of the global biosphere and, by extension, human wellbeing and development. It is inconceivable that a discipline predicated on the issues of scarcity and choice has nothing to contribute in terms of an understanding of either the causes and consequences of biodiversity loss, or in proposing solutions to the crisis. This thesis examines some of the economic parameters of the issue. Alongside the acknowledged root problems of market and institutional failure lies the question of economic valuation. Valuation of biodiversity puts conservation on a more level playing field with the economic forces which threaten its demise. Provided economic values can be appropriated (i.e. converted to flows of real economic resources) it becomes worthwhile for countries to invest in valuable biological assets. But the practice of economic valuation and the quantification of biodiversity are in their infancy and the complexity of the latter hinders the precise application of the former. Much of this thesis focuses on the use and development of the contingent valuation method (CV) as a flexible approach to valuing biodiversity. The method has a useful role to play in resource allocation, and, for valuing biological resources. Faced by the irreducible complexity of life which is the essence of biodiversity, CV does have its limitations. It is possible to conclude that existing valuation methods are a vital part of a "holding operation" alongside other surrogate approaches to setting priorities for global conservation. Nevertheless, the development of an interface between economic (preference-based) values, and biological values, which together can comprehensively inform conservation decisions remains the objective for the future.