We talk a lot about climate change and reducing carbon emissions, but perhaps less about the fact that there is also an ecological crisis. Although a historic agreement was reached at the COP15 biodiversity summit last December, it received less attention than the COP27 climate summit held one month earlier. Albeit the issue of biodiversity loss is at least as urgent as that of climate change.
Corvinus talked to Dr. Zsuzsanna Marjainé Szerényi, Professor of the University, Institute of Sustainable Development, about the economic evaluation of biodiversity. The interview has been edited for the sake of length and easier understanding.
At first glance, you might think that biodiversity loss is more of a problem for a science university, because it is a biological issue. How does Corvinus relate to this?
It’s a good question because we can only really approach these problems if we are aware of the scientific background, i.e. if we know what is happening in nature itself. This is not something an economist really understands.
So, economists have to get their inputs from other professions. Nature is a very complex system, if a small change happens in one part of it, it affects the rest. If it’s positive, we usually don’t notice it, if it’s negative, we notice it all the more.
Let me give you an example. If there are enough pollinating insects, everyone takes it for granted. But there are severe economic consequences if biodiversity is altered. Of course, the effect is not always as direct as between the reduced number of pollinating insects and reduced yields but can also be indirect. We have so much to thank nature for, which remains hidden and unconscious.
How do ecosystem services appear at Corvinus?
Students will be introduced to them for the first time under the first-year subject called Global Sustainability Challenges. What we want to show here is that when we evaluate something in economic terms, in monetary terms, it does not necessarily mean that we are enemies of nature. We actually do not want to devalue it; we want to give it more value. (…)
Were there specific projects focusing on this evaluation?
We were involved in a project led by the Ministry of Agriculture, with many research institutes working together. Among others, twelve ecosystem services were assessed together with colleagues from the Centre for Ecological Research of Vácrátót, the Institute for Agricultural Economics and the Institute of Soil Research.
In this research project we mapped the state of the ecosystem in Hungary. Three of the services were also subject to an economic valuation, namely climate change risk reduction, flood risk reduction and hiking in nature.
It was not easy. For me, perhaps the biggest challenge was to reduce flood risk, because there are many factors involved and many different methods. Counting always requires data, which is not always readily available.
Since then, there have been several publications on the subject, including an international article on hiking in nature. I worked with Anna Szécsi on this project, but Anna and Zsófia Nemes also published an article on carbon pricing.