Valuing Ecosystem Services
The GHG cap-and-trade programs are more complex than the acid rain program in the United States in that there are many, many different sources of GHG emissions and many varied ways to reduce global GHG. For example, forests and peat wetlands act as carbon sinks—naturally capturing atmospheric carbon and locking it up. Thus, a GHG emitter could cause global GHG emissions to decrease by paying a country such as Indonesia to prevent deforestation that would otherwise occur. Such an approach to controlling global GHG emissions raises complex valuation and verification issues. If country A pays country B to protect its forests, how many GHG credits should country A receive? How much carbon is captured by a square mile of Indonesian forest? How long should country B be required to protect that forest for a particular payment?
Some ecologists and economists are working to establish an analytical framework that would facilitate targeted conservation investments yielding the highest ecological returns by systematically inventorying and valuing the services nature performs, such as carbon absorption. Others, such as foresters, chemists, and accountants, are developing ways to verify and audit such factors as the amount of carbon stored by a particular stand of trees. This approach to control of GHG has raised ethical issues. One commentator has argued that, “farmers should not be paid to reduce their water pollution any more than I should be paid to stop mugging people.” In contrast, another sees the possibility of a hybrid “stoplight” approach. “The red part is: Here’s some things you can do to your land that are so bad that we’re gonna take you to prison. The yellow light is: Here’s . . . some minimal stuff that you really ought to do. Then the green light is: Here’s some stuff that’s above and beyond the stewardship obligation, and we’re going to pay you for doing it, because it’s to the benefit of society.”
If burning fossil fuels is a major catalyst of global climate change, then the developed world is the major cause. But citizens of the least developed countries will suffer the most severe consequences. If you already suffer food and water insecurity, any further disruption is catastrophic. “Because hunger and misery cannot afford to make the distinctions of the well-fed—to choose between cutting a tree or saving it—poverty is among the greatest environmental threats in the world.”20 Does this reasoning provide a response to the argument that farmers should not be paid to reduce their water pollution? Explain.