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Spending on Environment Yields
Big Returns
By Alister Doyle

NORWAY: September 15, 2005

OSLO - Spending to protect the environment, from coral reefs to forests, can bring big returns to aid a worldwide assault on poverty, a UN-backed report said on Wednesday.

The study, coinciding with a summit of world leaders in New York, even suggested that forests may be more valuable when left standing rather than being cleared for crops because trees can absorb the heat-trapping gases widely blamed for global warming.
"The environment...is not a luxury good, only affordable when all other problems have been solved," said Klaus Toepfer, head of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) which was among 30 international groups behind the report.

The study estimated that annual investments of $60-$90 billion in the environment over 10-15 years were needed to reach a world goal of halving the proportion of humanity living on less than a dollar a day, currently more than a billion people.

A further $80 billion a year was needed to limit global warming, widely linked to gases from burning fossil fuels in factories, cars and power plants, over the next 50 years.

Once invested, it said that every dollar spent on clean water and sanitation in the Third World, for instance, could bring $14 in benefits ranging from lower health care costs to higher work productivity and school attendance.

"Conservation of habitats and ecosystems are also cost effective when compared with the short-term profits from environmentally damaging activities" including dynamite fishing, mining or deforestation, it said.

Every dollar invested in fighting land degradation and desertification, like building terraces to stop hillside erosion, could generate at least $3 in benefits, the Poverty Environment Partnership report estimated.

CORALS BEAT DYNAMITE

And every dollar invested in protecting coral reefs could generate $5, ranging from scuba-diving tourism to renewable fish stocks.

Forests could play a role in slowing climate change because trees absorb carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas.

"The carbon storage or 'sequestration' potential of forests ranges between $360 and $2,200 per hectare which makes them worth far more than if they are converted to grazing or cropland," UNEP said.

And the study said that it becomes far more cost effective to conserve forests than to clear them once carbon prices exceed $30 a tonne.

In a European Union market, launched this year as part of a UN plan to curb global warming, carbon dioxide emission allowances trade at about 22 euros ($27.03) per tonne.

The report also pointed to other ways to place a value on the environment. Brazilian farmers in parts of the Amazon turned to forest nuts and berries when their crops failed, for instance, making the forests a "nature-based insurance policy."


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