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Nature loss to knock billions from global economy by 2050

By Hugh Wilson

WWF study highlights severe economic costs of ‘business as usual’ approach

Nature loss will slash at least $479bn (£370bn, €439bn) a year from the global economy if current rates of depletion continue, a report for the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) warns.

The Global Futures study calculates the economic cost of nature’s decline across 140 countries, and finds that between 2011 and 2050 the total cumulative financial loss will be $10tn, assuming a “business as usual” scenario.

The US would see the largest loss of annual GDP in absolute terms, with $83 billion wiped off its economy each year by 2050. Japan and the UK would lose $80 billion and $21 billion every year respectively.

Developed nations would suffer severe losses mostly due to coastal erosion and loss of agricultural land to flooding and soil loss. In developing countries, impacts on production levels, trade and food prices would be most keenly felt.

By contrast, a “Global Conservation” scenario based on sustainable development will pump an additional $0.23tn into the global economy over the next three decades.

Nature provides benefits to economies in a wide variety of ways, including the pollination of crops, protection of coasts from flooding and erosion, supply of water, timber production, marine fisheries and carbon storage. The report models how the degradation of the natural assets that provide these services will affect economic outcomes.

The report also calculates that in a business as usual scenario price hikes can be expected for key commodities including timber (plus 8 per cent), cotton (6 per cent), oil seeds (4 per cent) and fruit and vegetables (3 per cent).

The WWF warns that its model is highly conservative, and that real losses through the degradation of the natural world are likely to be much higher. That’s because the model only considers six of the many ecosystem services provided by nature.

Marco Lambertini, director general of WWF International, said: “Not only will losing nature have a huge impact on human life and livelihoods, it will be catastrophic for our future prosperity... What’s even more alarming is that these are conservative estimates as, at present, only some of the many benefits nature provides us can be modelled.”

FURTHER READING: WEF: Companies sign up to new environmental disclosure scheme

FURTHER READING: WEF: Climate dominates risks to world economy

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