A report commissioned by the French Government has calculated reference values for French ecosystems. These range from EUR600 per hectare/per year for pastureland to EUR2000 per hectare/per year for some types of forest. The methods used to calculate these values were carefully analysed.
Like many other countries, France has a clear commitment to account for biodiversity in public decision making, which means that the value of biodiversity and ecosystem services needs to be estimated in a clear and comprehensive way.
Based on an analysis of existing literature, the report calculated minimum estimates of the value of biodiversity, based on ecosystem services it provides to society. Reference values calculated by the study include those for temperate forestry (valued at a mean of EUR950 per hectare/per year) and pasture land (minimum valuation of EUR600 per hectare/per year). Forest valuations ranged from EUR500-2000 per hectare/per year; values varied primarily depending on whether the forest attracted tourism or used for recreation and on the forest management applied.
These reference values can be integrated into decision making processes, for example, into socio-economic impact assessments made prior to all large public infrastructure projects. Values quoted are the 'absolute minimum' values and can be used instead of 'zero' in public accounting of biodiversity. With further research, these values could significantly increase if more services were taken into account.
The report explains how it reached these results, and identified methodological weaknesses and questionable assumptions at each stage of the evaluation. Firstly, it prioritised ex-ante socio-economic calculations, i.e. it provided estimates of all the losses that may result from altering an ecosystem that would have to be endured or compensated for by society.
The reference values were drawn up using a cost/benefit approach .For example, it compared the cost of maintaining a specific Natura 2000 site on the Crau plain, with the financial benefits received by sheep and hay farmers on the land and the social benefits for local communities as a result of that investment. However, there are some questions surrounding the effectiveness of this approach, for example, its ability to consider changes in land use and the spatial impacts of these changes.
The report distinguishes 'remarkable' biodiversity from 'general' biodiversity, but it only provides reference values for general biodiversity. General biodiversity can be valued for the ecosystem services it contributes to society. In contrast, remarkable biodiversity also has an intrinsic value. For example, a very rare species, or biodiversity that also has strong cultural value. In these cases, valuation of opportunity costs for investment purposes was considered inappropriate.
Ecosystem services were classified according to the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment's proposals: 'provisioning services', which provide goods that people can use, such as food, 'regulating services', for example, climate or disease regulation, such as water quality, and 'cultural services', such as recreational or aesthetic purposes. Services were also classified as either 'dynamic services', i.e. flowing services such as water production and tourist visits, or 'static services', for example, stability of soil or carbon storage.
Sources: Chevassus-au-Louis, B., Salles, J-M., Pujol, J-L., et al. (2009). An economic approach to biodiversity and ecosystems services: Contribution to public decision-making. Centre d'analyses Strategiques report. Download from: www.strategie.gouv.fr