This was the claim of an economic study released by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) at the UN’s World Summit this week.

The report, Environmental Wealth for Poverty Reduction was prepared by David Pearce of University College London and compares the profits from ranching, logging, large-scale irrigation and other agricultural practices in poor countries against the potential to be made from conservation.

Even if the benefits from conserving local ecosystems are ignored in 21 out of the report’s 27 case studies the environmental option comes out on top, purely in terms of financial payback.

In Ecuador, conservation was shown to be an incredible 25 times more profitable than ranching while in Nigeria conserving floodplains provided a net benefit 17 times higher than irrigation schemes.

In Haiti, says the report, income could be doubled if cash was put into conservation schemes rather than logging.

And, while it may not sit comfortably with some advocates of animal rights, in Botswana hunting safaris that rely upon conservation efforts to be sustainable can bring in a return of 38% compared with 2% for cattle ranching.

Underpinning the case studies is the suggestion that poverty and the state of the planet are inextricably linked and sustainable development cannot be achieved without ensuring environmental sustainability.

It concludes that “investing in natural resources management is one of the most cost-effective ways to stimulate growth that reduces poverty.”

The full report can be found on the IUCN website.

By Sam Bond

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