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Office of Technology Assessment at the German Bundestag Office of Technology Assessment at the German Bundestag

Information on the project

Valorization of Biodiversity

Thematic area: Energy, resources, environment
Analytical approach: TA project
Topic initiative: Committee on Economic Cooperation and Development
Status: completed
Duration: 2012 till 2014

Subject and objective of the study

Biodiversity is considered to be one of the most important natural resources to be protected which is, however, increasingly shaped by anthropogenic influences and seriously threatened. For more than 20 years now, issues regarding the protection of biodiversity have been intensively discussed in science, politics and society at the global, European and national level. Nevertheless, none of the parties involved has succeeded in stopping the continuous loss of biodiversity.

Against this background, in recent years politics have increasingly focused on an economic paradigm shift. Economic concepts and instruments are expected to offer new impetus for the protection of biodiversity in two respects:

  • First, the objective is to make the value of nature and its resources visible by means of an economic valuation in order to raise social awareness of the issue.
  • Second, the costs for using natural resources shall be invoiced to the responsible protagonists. This can be achieved by means of adequate economic policy instruments.

However, these two economic strategies – which are negotiated under the joint keyword »valorization« – are rather criticized primarily by nature conservation organizations. But the intent and purpose of these strategies is highly controversial in science as well. This is not least due to the complexity and multi-dimensionality of the resource to be protected. Biodiversity cannot be reduced to the diversity of species alone but furthermore includes the considerable diversity of genes as well as ecosystems. In view of a controversial debate and a complex scientific background, TAB has been commissioned to analyze the scientific basis and political perspectives of an economic perspective on biodiversity.


The economic valuation of the »natural capital« and the internalization of external effects by means of economic policy instruments are two separate and independent approaches which – as a consequence – have to be assessed separately.

With regard to economic valuation, the different instruments used for valuation generally can be divided into market analysis and preference analysis. It can be observed that for these instruments major uncertainties exist and have to be coped with. On the one hand, this is due to the fact that economic valuation has to face basic methodological limitations mainly in view of more abstract benefit dimensions of biodiversity. On the other hand, however, there is no sufficient understanding yet of the complex interactions in ecosystems so that it is difficult to assess the effects of nature-based interventions. As long as this understanding still is insufficient, it will be impossible to make an adequate economic valuation thereof. In this respect, more research is required – mainly in the field of basic ecological research – in order to ensure practical usability of economic valuation studies for politics not only in individual cases, but in general.

With regard to economic policy instruments, no reliable experience is available in the context of nature and biodiversity protection so far. However, taking a look at the European emissions trading system shows that manifold governance problems and side effects have to be expected which even worsen due to the complexity of »biodiversity« as the resource to be protected. For this reason, a direct governance of biodiversity is especially difficult to implement. It seems to be more promising to apply an indirect governance approach using better measurable parameters which are closely linked to (the loss of) biodiversity (e. g. land use). Basically, the challenge is to achieve a tailor-made mix of policy instruments for biodiversity conservation that corresponds to the cross-sectional character of this task.

Altogether, it is obvious that – more than ever before – the conservation of biodiversity is an overall political task which should not be left to markets alone.