June 3, 2010 / 3:34 PM / 9 years ago

Rescuing ecosystems can save trillions of dollars: U.N.

NAIROBI (Reuters) - A few million dollars invested by governments in restoring nature could prevent far greater losses of the free services that ecosystems provide to people around the world, a U.N. report said on Thursday.

Sealions rest on rocks on the Galapagos islands April 29, 2007. REUTERS/Guillermo Granja

In the study released before World Environment Day on June 5, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) said nations could boost their economies by replenishing dying forests, marshes, coral reefs and riverbanks.

“What are the real economic value of some of these resources? Wetlands, of which half have been destroyed, have an economic value of $7 trillion per year,” Tim Kasten, a UNEP natural resources expert, told reporters in Nairobi.

“All together these services are providing up to $70 trillion per year of economic benefit,” Kasten said.

UNEP warned the loss of ecosystem services could lead to a 25 percent loss in the world’s food production by 2050.

The report, ‘Dying Planet, Living Planet’, says restoring wetlands helps to protect coastal regions from tropical storms and filter sewage out of water, while replanted forests provide vital drinking water for some of the world’s largest cities.

Conservation efforts often focus on the dwindling chunks of nature that are still pristine, such as untouched parts of the Amazon forest or the Great Barrier Reef, but UNEP urged governments not to give up on heavily damaged ecosystems.

“Given that more than 60 per cent of them ranging from marshes ...to tropical forests ... are already degraded, restoration must now be an equal priority,” it said.

The report says well planned programmes can usually recover between a quarter and a half of what was lost.

A study on restoring degraded grasslands around rivers in South Africa’s Drakensberg Mountains showed it would return winter river flows of 4 million cubic meters of water.

Mangroves in India protect houses against monsoon storms, reducing the cost of repairs by four fifths on average.

“In Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda, strict law enforcement, costing the lives of over 190 rangers, has helped restore the critically endangered mountain gorilla population ... generating large revenues from tourism,” it said.

Other benefits of fixing a poorly looked after natural world include “restoring water flows to rivers and lakes, improved soil stability and fertility vital for agriculture and combating climate change by sequestrating and storing carbon.”

Writing by Tim Cocks; editing by Richard Lough and David Stamp

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