Nagoya-(Reuters)- The World Bank on Thursday launched a programme to help nations put a value on nature just like GDP in a bid to stop the destruction of forests, wetlands and reefs that underpin businesses and economies.
The five-year pilot project backed by India, Mexico and other nations aims to embed nature into national accounts to draw in the full benefits of the services such as coastal protection from mangroves or watersheds for rivers that feed cities and crops.
'We're here today to create something that no one has tried before: a global partnership that can fundamentally change the way governments value their ecosystems,' World Bank President Robert Zoellick told reporters in the Japanese city of Nagoya.
More than 100 ministers are in Nagoya for a UN meeting that aims to seal a historic deal to set new 2020 targets to combat the rapid loss of plant and animal species from deforestation, pollution, over-hunting and climate change.
One of the targets before ministers is to agree to include the values of biological diversity into national development plans or possibly national accounts.
'A powerful way to show ministries of finance the true value of ecosystems is to integrate natural capital valuation into national accounting systems,' Zoellick said.
Norwegian Environment Minister Erik Solheim told reporters that companies that destroy nature must be held to account.
'The full cost of the negative impact on ecosystems must be covered by those who have the benefit from destroying it,' he told reporters.
While economists try to get a handle on the value of nature, scientists are struggling to get a full picture of the variety of wildlife species around the globe as climate change, exploitation and pollution threaten 'mass extinctions', a series of studies published on Wednesday showed.
Envoys at the Japan meeting, the product of years of negotiations, are trying to win agreement on a 20-point plan that aims to protect fish stocks, fight the loss and degradation of natural habitats and conserve larger land and marine areas.
Greater financing from rich nations, possibly through redirecting subsidies from the fossil fuel, fishing and other industries, is key.
Envoys are also aiming to clinch by Friday a new pact that sets laws for the sharing of genetic resources between governments and companies, such as drug and agri-resources firms.
Poorer nations want greater controls to protect their environment and to potentially earn billions of dollars in extra revenue from the benefits of trees to fungi, insects to frogs.
The World Bank programme will give developing countries tools to help them measure the value and benefits of their ecosystems. India's Environment Secretary Vijai Sharma said at the launch the tools would make impact assessments more objective when looking at bids by miners or steelmakers to set up operations in India.
India recently scrapped London-listed Vedanta Resources' plans to mine bauxite and expand its alumina refinery in Orissa over environmental concerns, worrying investors.
The government has also expressed concerns over a $12 billion steel mill planned by South Korean firm Posco. The government has delayed a decision on that project, with a panel of experts to hold a review next month.
Actor and environmentalist Harrison Ford urged negotiators to agree a landmark deal in Nagoya.
'It's in our own human self-interest to put national interests aside, to the extent that is necessary and possible and to come together on an international basis to support biodiversity,' Ford told a news conference.