When environmentalists talk economics

“Green taxation” proposal for Canadian municipalities

Nature provides valuable services to human society. It filters water, absorbs carbon dioxide and other pollutants, cools our cities and more. It feeds us, cares for us and provides us materials. Through its biodiversity, nature also, quite simply, helps ensure our quality of life. But how can we put a figure on this contribution? What economic value could be placed on natural environments and farmland? At present, economics does not take into account the well-being or quality of life supported by the natural world.

“When we assign an economic value to the services supplies to humans by nature, we can start to consider property assessment in a new way,” explains Jérôme Dupras, a doctoral student in geography at the Université de Montréal. His research directly examines three aspects: the economic contribution of good farming practices, the willingness of citizens to pay for conservation and their openness to support wetland restoration.

This far-ranging study has made it possible to quantify the value of Montréal’s greenbelt—a vast area covering 1.7 million hectares. Dupras focused his analysis on nine services provided by natural spaces. His findings: the economic contribution of this area amounts to $4.3 billion a year, with around 75 per cent of this tally coming from climate control measures, recreation and tourism activities, and biodiversity-supporting habitat. Water supply, water-level control and flood prevention, as well as pollination and erosion control, also contribute significantly to this economic perspective on nature.

“The aim is not to put a price on nature,” explains Dupras, “But instead, to integrate this economic assessment with land management tools.”

The economic value could become the basis for a compensation and payment system for ecosystem-based “services rendered.” For example, the federal or provincial government might compensate a municipality protecting a given amount of green space for its contribution to the well-being of the population in general.

“We must not see conservation and development as forces opposed to each other,” argues Dupras. “Green taxation is a tool for uniting the two. It invites us to remove the economic blinkers stopping us from seeing the services we receive from nature.”

At a time when Canadian municipalities keep calling for new funding sources, it is worth considering a “green taxation” model, one that integrates the economic value of natural spaces.

Research funded by SSHRC: Assessment of the economic value of environmental goods and services of agricultural and protected land in Québec.