Incorporating environmental costs of ecosystem service loss in political decision making: A synthesis of monetary values for Germany
Germany faces on-going degradation and biodiversity loss. As a consequence, goods and services provided by biodiversity for human well-being, so-called ecosystem services, are being lost. The associated economic costs and benefits are often unknown. To fill this gap, we conducted a literature review and developed a database of monetary values for the changes in ecosystem services that result from ecosystem change in Germany. In total, 109 monetary valuation studies of regulating and cultural ecosystem services were identified, with the majority focusing on forests and wetlands. In collaboration with valuation experts and the German Federal Environment Agency—Umweltbundesamt (UBA), we defined a set of criteria that economic valuation studies should meet in order to qualify for being used in decision making on national policies. Only 6 out of 109 valuation studies (5.5%) fulfilled the quality criteria for informing such decisions. Overall, monetary information on regulating and cultural ecosystem services is scattered and scarce compared to information on provisioning services, which is accounted for in detail in national statistics. This imbalance in information likely contributes to the distortion in land-use policies, giving preference to maximizing provisioning services in agricultural production and forestry, while neglecting the societal relevance of regulating and cultural services. Decision makers have to rely on only a few cost estimates that are scientifically robust, while being pragmatic to include also vague estimates in cases where data is lacking. The transferability of the monetary values included in our database depends on the biophysical and socio-economic site conditions as well as the decision context of the intended application. Case specific adjustments following guidance for benefit transfer are recommended. Given the lack of applicable studies, we call for more decision-relevant economic assessments. Even in cases where monetary estimates are available, we suggest decision makers to consider also other benefit information available to capture the multiple values ecosystems provide to humans.