Does economic valuation really influence policy?
Economic valuation of ecosystems aims to highlight the economic importance of ecosystems and the services they provide, with an eye toward influencing decision-makers to improve management to preserve services. However, through an ongoing review of actual policy influence by coastal ecosystem valuations in the Caribbean, we are coming to believe that such influence happens infrequently. In Jamaica, for example, we identified more than a dozen published coastal valuations and none had demonstrable policy influence.
Our review has also revealed several bright spots as a result of valuation studies:
- Belize saw both fruitful NGO advocacy and improved coastal policy-making.
- The Bonaire Marine Park adopted, and later increased, user fees—making it one of the few self-financed marine parks in the Caribbean.
- St. Maarten established the Man of War Shoal Marine Park.
- The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary recovered millions of dollars for reef restoration after ship groundings—just one of several U.S. examples.
We are learning that context matters. The elements of success include local demand for valuation, a clear policy question, strong local partnerships, access to decision-makers, good governance and study areas with a high dependence on coastal resources. It is also clear that methodology matters. Valuation should be done on a scale appropriate to the policy question, with efficient implementation, possibly including use of standardized methods that are matched to the policy question, and with strong stakeholder engagement throughout. Absolute accuracy is not always essential, as many stakeholders use valuation results as a ballpark figure to guide decision-making. However, clear presentation of methods and limitations is critical in order to address critiques and legitimize results.
We need to ask ourselves some tough questions and work towards designing and applying valuation studies that will yield meaningful impacts.
- Should future valuations only focus on locations where preconditions for success already exist (e.g., strong partnerships, good governance, high coastal resource dependence)?
- Why have developed countries achieved greater policy influence than developing countries?
- Even if economic valuation can be useful, is the return on investment worthwhile? Would you achieve greater impact by investing in other tools for decision-making and policy influence?
Do you have examples where valuation of tropical coastal ecosystems has influenced policy or investment? If so, please share. We are still compiling examples and deriving key factors for success, and look forward to sharing our final results with you all.