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Economy and environment are not enemies: a research on ecosystem services

"One of the most important market failures is the environmental damage resulting from the impact that man has on shared property and free access resources. In order to increase the effectiveness of the tools provided for the protection of biological diversity, decisive action will be necessary in different context, from local to global ". There could be no more appropriate conclusions for a time when deforestations expose humans to viruses previously contained by the integrity of ecosystems.

Vanessa Melas, environmental economist of the MEDSEA Foundation, had to discuss at a distance her thesis, "The value of the conservation of biodiversity", presented as a conclusion of the master in Economics and Management of Natural Resources and the Environment of the Nicolò Cusano University of Rome . "Without the ritual, emotion and joy fade a bit. A few hitches with technology", she comments in another interview on the screen.

The research was born from the desire to deepen the knowledge about the discipline of biological diversity conservation , the intrinsic value of the environment and what are the most suitable measures to preserve it and promote its sustainable use. According to the most concise and used definition, that adopted by the international community in 1992, biodiversity is “the variability of living organisms of all sources, including, inter alia, terrestrial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems, as well as ecological complexes of which they are part, including diversity within each species, between species and ecosystems". The infinite, harmonious and mostly unknown heritage on which human societies have built civilization. “The best estimate suggests that there are between 5 and 10 million species, half of which are insects. The WWF Biodiversity Report (2013) suggests that a multitude of new ones are added every year, as the International Institute for Species Exploration (IISE) documents today, to an average of 18,000 new species of plants and animals described each year ", Melas writes in her research. These also include bacteria and viruses.

To protect the boundless and mysterious natural wonder from overexploitation, pollution, climate change and fragmentation of habitats over the years, numerous protection measures have been produced, at all levels, from regional to global. Perhaps too many, and sometimes one against the other, argues Melas in the long chapter that compares them. The Protected Natural Areas, the main tool in the protection of biodiversity, cover 22% of the Italian territory. But it is the issue of paradigms summoned to manage natural reserves that become the main object of the study. The “command and control” philosophy, which limits itself to circumscribing and protecting protected areas, lacks flexibility and imposes a hierarchical approach that prevents a shared decision-making process and "once these measures are implemented outside public areas, they can interfere with other rights such as those related to private property, often generating situations of conflict”.

The answer lies in integrating control measures with the so-called PES, the "payments for ecosystem services". PES, explains Melas, "try to give an advantage to all the actors involved in the protected areas. The institution managing a forest must receive an incentive to protect the benefits that the forest guarantees. If the incentive is not adequate, the subject will resort to the most comfortable and harmful solution, exploitation and deforestation". The incentive should align with value. The economic value of biodiversity must be calculated. Melas can boast an important field experience in this regard, developed during the evaluation of the ecosystem services of the S'Ena Arrubia pond together with senior environmental economist Vania Statzu. S’Ena Arrubia is one of the six Ramsar sites involved in the Maristanis project, focused on the integrated management of the Oristano wetlands, and of which the MEDSEA Foundation is the leader. “Each service follows a different method to reach an evaluation. We have calculated the benefits brought by the quality of the water, the protection that the pond offers against floods, the importance of the wetland for aquaculture and agriculture, its great tourist and cultural value, both for tourists and residents. S'Ena Arrubia is just a small example. There is no conflict between biodiversity protection and economic development. The Maristanis project demonstrates how integrated management, organic to ecosystems and the population, can be a decision-making process capable of involving all the territorial actors, of putting together, in harmony, environmental and human needs”.

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