We agree that economic valuations of the ecosystem services provided by natural environments can be a powerful tool to aid conservation (see Nature 591, 178; 2021), but we suggest that they are subject to six caveats.
First, they are automatically weighted towards countries with strong currencies and high gross domestic products, undervaluing ecosystems and people in low-income nations. Second, current protocols (see P. Dasgupta The Economics of Biodiversity: the Dasgupta Review; HM Treasury, 2021) are incomplete and should take into account mental health, which has cash consequences for employers, insurers, governments and societies (R. Buckley et al. Nature Commun. 10, 5005; 2019). Third, they apply at different scales, physically and politically: global or cross-border for some, but local for most. Fourth, they are most powerful for ecosystem services that are scarce, in demand, rival (one user prevents others from using it) and excludable (it is possible to stop someone from using it). Fifth, their political power depends on the focus and distribution of costs and benefits: health outweighs conservation, for instance. Finally, they depend on human institutions, such as carbon prices.
Protocols to account for ecosystem services should therefore be scalable, to match political decisions, and modular, allowing for future adjustments. It would be premature to solidify standards now.
Nature 592, 188 (2021)