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ATLAS Deliverable 5.3: Validity, legitimacy and acceptability of ecosystem valuations

Tinch, R; Ankamah-Yeboah, I; Armstrong, C

With the aim of improving decision-making processes, there is increasing interest from research providers, policy makers and private sector decision makers in economic valuation of ecosystem goods and services. Market systems and economic appraisal methods offer powerful tools for supporting decisions about the allocation of scarce resources. However there are many important aspects of human activity that are not fully reflected in market prices, including our impacts on the natural world and our dependence on the many valuable goods and services provided by ecosystems. Attempts to assess the values of these impacts, goods and services in monetary terms could help environmental management via various tools of economic analysis, accounting and appraisal.
However, this extension of economic methods to the natural world is highly controversial and viewed by some as unethical. This results in disagreements within and between research, conservation and policy communities regarding the appropriate role of valuation and appraisal methods in informing policy and decision-making. From the perspective of the ATLAS project, there is considerable scope for using the tools of environmental valuation applied to deep sea ecosystems and their services to inform marine spatial planning and conservation decision. Although it is not yet possible to estimate values for all marine services, the ecosystem services framework can help to structure information and thinking about the ways in which humans depend on marine ecosystems, and the ability to value some of these services can be useful for communicating their importance and potentially for informing decisions about trade-offs between different uses of the marine environment, including conservation. On the other hand, some reject the legitimacy of these approaches to assessing marine ecosystems, and/or see the estimates as invalid measurements that fail to capture the real values at stake. These divergent points of view make it harder to know how, whether and under what conditions valuation evidence should be generated and used in marine policy and decision-making processes.
The research presented in this report aims to address these issues by assessing the different points of view that exist in the marine research, management and policy communities regarding the estimation of monetary values for marine ecosystems and services and their use in appraisal and policy settings. A better understanding of how and why perspectives differ, and how they are similar, can provide insights into whether or not valuation approaches could be useful in practical settings, and also regarding how differences in opinion might be discussed, respected and perhaps in some cases reduced.
The report starts with an overview of the rationale for valuation, the ideas underpinning it, and the main criticisms and concerns associated with it. This is followed by an explanation of the Q-sorting method and how it was applied to the issues discussed here. The results are presented in section 4, which is followed by a concluding discussion focussing on the implications of the results for the use of valuation in marine policy and decision processes, in particular the potential for building on areas of consensus to develop a common understanding and approach to valuation that may be more widely acceptable. 

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