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Environmental economics: Saving lives, money, and ecosystems

October 7, 2010

Environmental economics gives developing countries a unique tool to make development sustainable and to leapfrog over many of the mistakes that industrialized nations have made.

IDRC has worked with researchers in developing countries to build this field of applied research, which provides decision-makers facing tough economic and environmental choices with vital evidence, analysis, and recommendations.

Environmental economists shed light on underlying causes of environmental degradation and apply economic principles to design solutions that benefit people and the planet. For example, after the October 1999 super cyclone in Orissa, India, researcher Saudamini Das assessed the storm-protection value of mangrove forests. She calculated that a hectare of mangrove land stopped damage worth US$43,000 during the cyclone. She also concluded that more than 90% of the 10,000 lives lost would have been saved if the area’s mangroves had been intact.

Saving lives and money

Now in India, “whatever mangroves are there, they are being protected” says Das, whose research was supported by the IDRC-funded South Asian Network for Development and Environmental Economics. Her groundbreaking findings were published in 2009 in the official journal of the United States National Academy of Sciences. They were also featured in the Summer 2010 issue of Nature Conservancy magazine, where it was noted that “Nature Conservancy scientists point to Das’ work as some of the strongest evidence to date that protecting mangroves not only saves lives but also saves money.”

IDRC’s field-building effort began in 1993 with the creation of the Economy and Environment Program for Southeast Asia. IDRC and donor partners also helped establish networks in South Asia (1999), Latin America (2005), and Africa (2007). In 2008, the Cairo-based Economic Research Forum launched a fledgling network in the Middle East with IDRC support. By now, the networks in Asia, Africa, and Latin America have produced a large body of research, some of which has begun to influence environmental policies.

Far and away the most impressive academic progress in the field of environment and economic development in the past 15 years has been the flowering of original research on local environmental problems in poor countries by scholars residing in those countries.

Sir Partha Dasgupta, Frank Ramsey Professor of Economics, University of Cambridge, from his Foreword to Valuing the Environment by David Glover

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