As delivered by the Hon. Eva Bulling-Schröter MdB, Chair of the Committee on the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety in the Bundestag, at the 1st GLOBE Natural Capital Summit
Excellencies, Colleagues, Mr Gardiner, Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a pleasure to welcome you very warmly to this conference organised by GLOBE International here in Berlin.
I should like to begin by introducing myself. My name is Eva Bulling-Schröter. I am Chairwoman of the Committee on the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety at the Bundestag. I am also environmental policy spokeswoman for my parliamentary group, the Left Party.
Yesterday, you convened for a dinner at the Federal Foreign Affairs Ministry. Today, here in the Paul Löbe Building of the Bundestag, more substantive debates begin on the GLOBE project which was first devised at the last World Summit held in Rio de Janeiro in 2012: the Natural Capital Initiative. We in Germany are currently seeing particularly acutely how expensive overexploitation of nature can be. In the south and east of our country, we are currently in the grips of the "flood of the century". Yet this is the third flood of these dimensions within the space of only eleven years.
All the evidence points to the fact that climate change increases the likelihood of extreme weather events like flooding. But the unchecked sealing of ground surfaces and the straightening of rivers which took place in the past are also exacerbating the negative impact on humans and nature.
The result is that many people in Bavaria, Saxony or Thuringia are now losing all their worldly goods; and there has even been loss of life.
All of this is tragic. Yet the effects triggered by flooding in Pakistan or Bangladesh, or other states in the global south, are usually far more devastating. At the same time, the resources available to repair the damage – assuming this is even possible – are more limited.
With regard to climate protection, there are a number of options for internalising environmental costs. You are familiar with these options: eco-tax or emissions trading are some of them. Yet the example of flooding also shows that possibly the instrument of regulatory policy is what is needed to prevent damage. Requirements and restrictions on farmers close to river banks, requirements for the restoration of previous surfaces, programmes for natural restorative measures and much more.
In order to create acceptance for such interventions, it may make sense to be able to quantify the value of the environmental services provided by near-natural waterways, or, on the other side of the equation, to quantify the value of the possible damage which may be caused by the straightened flows of structurally poor rivers. Yet comprehensive approaches are also of course needed.
The Stern Review attracted a great deal of attention when it was published. Media headlines stressed the simple message that climate protection was cheaper than the damage to be expected in the absence of climate-protection measures. The review emphasised that one per cent of global GDP could be spent on climate protection straight away, as opposed to the 5 or 20 per cent of GDP which climate change would cost if no action was taken.
This is a message which even economists understand.
So is putting a price on natural resources, which you will be discussing over the next two days, something to be welcomed without reservations? I would be cautious about such an approach, since there are certain risks attached to it. For fundamental reasons, but also for methodological and, of course, for political reasons. The old demand for a price tag to be placed on the environment and for the internalisation of environmental costs was rightly received with enthusiasm by environmentalists at the time.
However, cost-benefit debates can sometimes take on a momentum of their own. For example when people say climate change should be allowed to run its course. There have been claims that it is cheaper to mitigate the damage caused using dams etc. than to prevent climate change via climate-protection measures in industry.
And indeed one could argue at length about how expensive an intact or a destroyed environment actually is. What is the "cost" of an extinct species or even a drowned or starved human being? What interest rates are being paid on possible damage or benefits and for how long?
As soon as one begins to work this out using different variables, the possible outcomes vary widely. And this is not simply a minor flaw. It is a comprehensive and systematic problem which has to be taken very seriously. For such political price tags may trigger reflections on what should be given priority in view of the limited funds available in the environmental and health protection areas.
In addition, I am pretty sure that many biotopes would be found which provide very little in terms of ecosystem services for humans, yet are nevertheless extremely valuable and worthy of protection.
The discussion of how much environmental protection is worth to us, though in itself sensible, could thus lead to the establishment of a pecking order for protection, which we do not want. It would mean giving priority to protecting biotopes which contribute directly or indirectly to GDP. This would mean, for example, protecting shoals of herring or cod, but not the deep sea. Some aspects of environmental protection would thus be subject to a questionable pressure to justify their necessity.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I am sure that you would have these kinds of considerations at the back of your minds in any case when working on the Natural Capital Initiative. The goal cannot be to subject environmental protection to relentless cost-benefit analysis. I do not think that anybody here wants that.
Instead, intelligent instruments must be found to more strongly gear economic activity towards true sustainability. This would represent a step forward.
And I wish you every success in working towards this goal today and tomorrow!