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A ‘conservation basic income’

Pay people a fiver a day to keep biodiversity loss at bay, study says
Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod
Indigenous young Brazilian man from Guarani showing the rainforest to a tourist

The cost of subsidising people in vulnerable areas to help safeguard biodiversity could be less than the financial aid given to environmentally harmful industries, a study suggests.

For less than £5 a day per person, governments could help protect fragile and economically vital ecosystems and boost efforts to conserve global biodiversity, researchers say.

Cheaper than fossil fuels

The introduction of a conservation basic income (CBI) – unconditional cash payments given to people living in protected areas or alongside at-risk species – of $5.50 (around £4.40) per day for people who live in protected areas in low- and middle-income countries would cost around £380 billion a year.

Fossil fuels and other industries harmful to the environment receive around £400 billion a year in government subsidies, the team says.

The CBI concept is similar to a universal basic income, where people receive a set amount of money intended to reduce poverty and improve wellbeing.

The payments could help enable people to move away from activities and industries that lead to habitat loss, pollution and other causes of biodiversity loss, the team says.

Supporting Indigenous peoples

Similar guaranteed income schemes aimed at alleviating poverty in low- and middle-income countries show they can also lessen biodiversity loss by reducing activities such as deforestation.

More than three-quarters of people living in the world’s key areas of biodiversity are in low- and middle-income countries, so the use of CBI should be prioritised in these countries, researchers say.

‘Addressing the climate and biodiversity crises will take ambitious action to transform our economies and societies. The CBI is a promising proposal to support the Indigenous peoples and local communities that safeguard the world’s biodiversity and land, and redress global inequalities.

‘Our study puts concrete numbers to this proposal, showing that CBI is an ambitious but potentially sensible investment. The next step is to pilot CBI schemes in partnership with Indigenous communities.’

University of Edinburgh’s School of GeoSciences, study lead

Redirecting public money

A team led by University of Edinburgh researchers used publicly available data to calculate the costs of rolling out CBI schemes across the world in different scenarios.

For each, researchers used computer modelling to investigate three different payment rates: a fixed daily rate of $5.50 (£4.39); 25% of national GDP per person and tiered rates based on countries’ income levels.

Their findings show the cost of a global CBI scheme could range between £280 billion and £5.3 trillion per year.

While the cost of CBI would be higher than current conservation spending – around £106 billion globally in 2020 – it is a fraction of the estimated £35 trillion in global economic production that is dependent on nature, the team says.
Funding for CBI – which can benefit people, the environment and economies – could be secured by redirecting public money that is currently used to subsidise environmentally harmful industries, researchers say.

The findings are published in the journal Nature Sustainability.

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