Nature provides many benefits for people, yet there are few data on how changes at individual sites impact the net value of ecosystem service provision. A 2002 review found only five analyses comparing the net economic benefits of conserving nature versus pursuing an alternative, more intensive human use. Here we revisit this crucial comparison, synthesizing recent data from 62 sites worldwide. In 24 cases with economic estimates of services, conservation or restoration benefits (for example, greenhouse gas regulation, flood protection) tend to outweigh those private benefits (for example, profits from agriculture or logging) driving change to the alternative state. Net benefits rise rapidly with increasing social cost of carbon. Qualitative data from all 62 sites suggest that monetization of additional services would further increase the difference. Although conservation and restoration did not universally provide greater net value than the alternative state, across a large, geographically and contextually diverse sample, our findings indicate that at current levels of habitat conversion, conserving and restoring sites typically benefits human prosperity.
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We thank B. Balmford, K. Bolt and J. Vause for advice. A.B. was supported by a Royal Society Wolfson Merit award. K.S.-H.P. was supported by an AXA Research Fund (grant no. RG64520) while at the University of Cambridge.
The authors declare no competing interests.
Peer review information Nature Sustainability thanks Sarah Klain and Louise Willemen for their contribution to the peer review of this work.
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Bradbury, R.B., Butchart, S.H.M., Fisher, B. et al. The economic consequences of conserving or restoring sites for nature. Nat Sustain (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41893-021-00692-9