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Friday, December 20, 2013

The immense value of conservation in a changed, disrupted climate

I’ve blogged about the job-creating value of public lands conservation, the competitive advantage afforded to regions that conserve their natural assets, and the ecosystem service value that conservation provides.

Now, Resources for the Future has published an important and exemplary study that quantifies the value of conservation in a world imperiled by global climate disruption.

Flooding and Resilience: Valuing Conservation Investments in a World with Climate Change looks at the Meramec Greenway in Missouri – a 108-mile long area of mostly forested protected lands along the Meramec River.

In the twentieth century, flooding caused more deaths and property damage in the United States than any other natural disaster. Most climate models predict that flooding will worsen in the future, a prospect that is leading a growing number of communities to explore the use of natural areas as protection against extreme events. These areas are currently providing flood mitigation benefits. They store floodwaters and lessen the flow to area streams and rivers; in coastal areas, they may protect against storm surge and flooding from hurricanes.

Perhaps most important, by remaining undeveloped, they reduce exposure to storms. But how much more valuable will the lands become if floods are more frequent or severe in the future

(T)he greenway provides a substantial flood mitigation benefit right now, even before considering increased risks from climate change. According to our estimates, the current protected lands yield an average annual benefit in the form of avoided flood damages of $13.1 million a year, or about $6,000 per acre. If climate change causes peak discharges to rise by 30 percent, an increase consistent with some of the (limited) literature on how climate change will affect flood risks in the region, the benefits of the greenway are $4.5 million higher. If peak discharges rise by 50 percent, which we look at as an upper bound, the benefits of the greenway are $7.9 million higher. If the frequency of flood events doubles, the benefits double. And finally, if the frequency of only the worst events doubles (the 100-, 250-, and 500-year events), we find that the benefits increase by just $1.2 million, or 9 percent.
The climate resilience benefits of conservation are very real - and huge. Consider that these "returns" to the citizens of Missouri from this single greenway will go on - and will likely rise substantially - year after year. It sure beats the stock market.

Now consider the climate resilience benefits of conservation in a state like Pennsylvania – one of the most flood-prone in the nation.  

RFF has provided a model for smart communities, states, and other levels of government to use, refine, and apply for their own protection - and for their long term prosperity. Citizens get it.

How can we not afford to invest in conservation? 

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