The 2012 Volvo Environment Prize was recently awarded to Gretchen Daily, professor at Stanford University in California and one of the world’s foremost experts on the valuation of natural capital. Daily believes that the only way to create long-term welfare is to quantify the value of ecosystems.
Putting a price on nature is controversial among many in the environmental movement. Critics say that the value of nature’s beauty, and the benefits of living seas, healthy forests and species diversity cannot be given a monetary price tag.
“I understand their concern, but today the problem is that so much of the ecosystems and the services we get from them are, in principle, valued at zero,” said Daily. “We need to work pragmatically to fix this. If we can demonstrate economically the enormous benefits of pollination by insects or natural protections against climate change and floods, then investments in nature will become part of everyday life. We’re talking about 21st-century environmental protection.”
Daily is one of the pioneers of quantifying and valuing natural capital. In 2002 she published her book The New Economy of Nature: the Quest to Make Conservation Profitable (written with Katherine Ellison). In 2006 she and others founded the Natural Capital Project, where Stanford University, together with the Worldwide Fund for Nature and The Nature Conservancy, is developing methods for measuring the economic value of ecosystem services.
Daily is not only a prominent theoretician in her field, she is also in demand as adviser to projects across the world where efforts are being made to protect the biological productivity of land areas while at the same time enabling sustainable economic growth.
Across the world, interest in biological diversity and ecosystem services is rising, especially after the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity in Nagoya, Japan, in 2010. The Nagoya Protocol obliges countries to protect nature areas and promote biological diversity.
“It is undeniable that interest has increased in recent years in valuing the benefits of what nature gives us and protecting them for the future,” said Daily. “The problem has been to develop valuation instruments and methods. But here too, much has been accomplished — we now have tools of practical use and I believe that in five years we will see them widely adopted.”
Gretchen Daily is Bing Professor of Environmental Science at Stanford University in California, and Senior Fellow at the Woods Institute for the Environment, also at Stanford. She has published more than 200 scientific articles and popular scientific papers.
The Volvo Environment Prize was founded in 1988 and is one of the world’s most prestigious environmental prizes. It is awarded annually to people who have made outstanding scientific discoveries within the areas of the environment and sustainable development. The laureate is awarded a prize of SEK 1.5 million (about U.S. $226,323).
Headquartered in Göteborg, Sweden, The Volvo Group is a leading manufacturer of trucks, buses and construction equipment, drive systems for marine and industrial applications and aerospace components.