South East Asia's biodiversity worth $3 trillion a year


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Malaysia's scientific advisory body calculates economic value of region's flora, fauna

South-east Asia's biodiversity provides the region with at least US$2.19 trillion (S$3.05 trillion) in economic benefits a year, a new report by Malaysia's highest scientific advisory body has found.

The paper, titled "The Nexus of Biodiversity Conservation and Sustainable Socio-economic Development in South-east Asia", is the first to calculate the economic value of the vast diversity of wildlife and swathes of rainforests, peatlands and mangroves in the region.

In 2020, the total combined gross domestic product of the 10 Asean member states was US$3 trillion.

Nature's economic contribution of US$2.19 trillion to Asean member states refers to the benefits South-east Asia's biodiversity provides now, and the figure can rise if nations further act on conservation, said the Academy of Sciences Malaysia, which published its report yesterday.

The figure was derived from a valuation of biodiversity here, based on a 2018 report by the World Wildlife Fund which estimated the global value of economic activity underpinned by nature to be US$125 trillion.

One of the report's authors, Professor Pervaiz Ahmed from Malaysia's Sunway University, said their valuation considered four domains: a forest's role in soaking up carbon dioxide and preventing floods, its role as a habitat for species' survival, its place in education and tourism, and the value of its provisional services such as timber, food and medicine from the rainforest.

Although South-east Asia covers only 4 per cent of earth's land surface area, the region is rich in its native flora and fauna, making up six of the world's 25 biodiversity hot spots.

The report highlights promising nature protection initiatives that have brought about economic growth and jobs either through ecotourism or carbon credit projects.

One example is Indonesia's Rimba Raya Biodiversity Reserve Project, which preserves carbon-dense tropical peat swamps in Kalimantan, and has halted the deforestation of about 65,000ha of forest originally planned for oil palm plantations.

The paper comes a week before nations around the world, including Asean member states, gather in Kenya to discuss a proposal to protect or conserve at least 30 per cent of the planet's land and oceans by 2030.

While the report found that nature is valued at close to US$100 million in Singapore - a smaller figure compared with its neighbours due to its smaller land size - the island state's strength lies in its financial hub status and potential in mobilising green finance and carbon trading in the region, said Prof Pervaiz.

One way to unlock and maximise the US$2.19 trillion is to leverage science, technology and innovation to further the conservation and restoration of biodiversity, which Singapore is also strong in, he added.

This includes using satellites and drones to study the health of mangroves and sustainable fisheries, and using novel methods to breed endangered plants and restore habitats.

US$3 trillion

Total combined gross domestic product of the 10 Asean member states in 2020.

US$125 trillion

Estimated global value of economic activity underpinned by nature.

Commenting on the paper, Associate Professor Roman Carrasco from the National University of Singapore's Department of Biological Sciences said: "The region has to invest in what it has a clear global competitive advantage - biodiversity."

As Singapore helps to transform South-east Asia's economy into a green economy powerhouse, more specialised sustainability jobs will be added here, he said.

They include those for talent equipped to measure carbon stocks and help companies demonstrate their net-zero and nature-positive pledges.

Shabana Begum

The Straits Times

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