Institutional diversity for the Green Economy

April 14, 2014.  

Valuing and accounting natural capital for the Green Economy (VANTAGE) was the topic of a conference held at the UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme) headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya, in December 2013. Participants from all over the world discussed how the next step from conventional wealth to more inclusive measures of progress can be made. Expectations are high that with different economic values, countries will make better development decisions. One way to do so is by not counting environmentally destructive activities as economic progress.


Discussion points and lines
With a VANTAGE approach, countries aim at accounting wealth which better reflects their impact on the natural environment. Economic value theory is extended to realms of nature which were thought to be intrinsically complex and uncertain. By mainstreaming economic value theory, valuation and accounting have substantially reduced the transaction costs of communicating values of nature across diverse cultures and languages. By doing so, new green business opportunities have emerged. The prospects of exploring these new fields of business are promising. However, with rising atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases, doubts are justified that the current approach to valuation and accounting is not enough to change behavior. Adjusting prices to better reflect the value of ecosystem goods and services is a feedback mechanism which works when applied to systems with private goods. When applying the same mechanism to public goods, such as under the emissions trading system, failures occur. Moreover, they crowd out voluntary action and citizens’ engagement which is essential to craft institutions which change behavior.

ZEF research on forestry resources in Africa
For the Valuation and Accounting of Natural Capital for Green Economy (VANTAGE) conference at UNEP in Nairobi, ZEF senior researcher Franz Gatzweiler presented results of the International Forestry Resources and Institutions (IFRI) network, which is led by ZEF. Outcomes so far demonstrate that institutional changes for sustaining forest resources need to include multiple levels of decision-making. In addition, these levels need to be linked in order to function as a viable organizational unit. Value is created as outcome of a struggle to govern complex, multi-level governance problems. Value is not an inherent attribute of goods or services or a price tag; it rather emerges as a property of interaction patterns at multiple levels of organization. Therefore, value of ecosystems and biodiversity are closely coupled with processes of deliberation, agreeing on rules in use and social organization. Gatzweiler explained that in the face of future ecological and climatic uncertainties societies will benefit from maintaining diversity in value perceptions, valuation languages and value articulating institutions, as they provide for a repertoire of social response mechanisms for the Green Economy.


Franz W. Gatzweiler

Prof. Dr. Franz W. Gatzweiler