New Assessment of the Greenbelt’s Natural Capital Finds Ecological Goods and Services Are Worth Billions to Residents of Ontario

By: Tom Bowers, Senior Research and Policy Analyst

The Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation is pleased to release our latest report, Ontario's Good Fortune: Appreciating the Greenbelt's Natural Capital produced by Green Analytics. The report assessed the value of final services provided by the Greenbelt that Ontario residents benefit from, including, flood protection, recreational opportunities and clean drinking water. It finds that in addition to storing over $11.17B of carbon, the Greenbelt provides $3.2B annually in ecosystem services to residents of the region (approximately 9 million people).

Key findings include:

  • $2.1B per year in recreational activities e.g. angling, hiking, cycling, bird watching, hunting and ATV trails
  • $224M per year in flood protection for private property
  • $358M in clean drinking water
  • $52M per year in carbon sequestration
  • Over $1,000 in services to all households within 20km of the Greenbelt

This is a follow up to our 2008 study and offers exciting new insights by adopting a new assessment framework, the National Ecosystem Services Classification (NESC) developed by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), applying the latest modelling tools and using the best available data. The NESC framework systematically identifies and traces the links between nature and human health. The report therefore documents how residents in and around the Greenbelt directly and personally benefit from the services flowing from its protected natural capital.

The report is important for several reasons. First of all, it provides hard evidence that the Greenbelt is good for the economy, it’s good for our collective health and well-being, and critical for mitigating and adapting to climate change. The permanent protection of natural capital provided by the Greenbelt Plan is not simply a ‘green’ issue but a vital component of a regional economic, growth and development strategy.

This critical information can be used to inform policy development and to consider the impact of different land use decisions. For example, in terms of climate change we know the Greenbelt is a massive carbon sink and the policies that protect and enhance the natural systems storing that carbon are cost effective measures in combating global warming. The information can also be used at a more local level to consider alternative policy, investment or development scenarios, e.g. by feeding into a cost benefit analysis for conservation activities or when considering new quarry sites. It is important to understand how development in certain areas can erode natural capital and result in net ‘economic losses’ once ecological goods and services are factored in, but also how investments in conservation and enhancement projects benefit the environment and the local economy.

The report also sets out a framework for identifying and valuing natural capital that municipalities and other stakeholders can apply locally. While they can use much of the information contained in the report it is important that stakeholders derive a more detailed and nuanced understanding of their own natural capital. The Foundation will be hosting workshops in 2017 with Greenbelt stakeholders to support that process. Participants will have the opportunity to apply the framework, data sets and modelling tools used to produce the report to their own specific context.

There is a lot happening in terms of natural capital valuation at the moment:

  • The Natural Step has just launched a Natural Capital Lab (which I am excited to be part of)
  • the IISD released a report ranking Canada first globally in its comprehensive wealth assessment (but with declining natural capital)
  • the Natural Capital Protocol is gaining traction with Canadian businesses; and
  • there is a project involving municipalities across Canada piloting approaches for integrating natural capital into asset management portfolios

Effective management of natural capital is becoming ever more necessary. I hope Ontario and Canada will be at the forefront of developing the necessary tools and resources to make it happen. We hope our report will contribute to the momentum that is building.

Read the 2016 Natural Capital Report 

    Tom Bowers
    Senior Research and Policy Analyst


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