Scientists conceptualize a cash ‘stock market’ to put a price on stocks with biodiversity risks
So far, science has described over 2 million species, with millions more waiting to be discovered. Although species have value in themselves, many of them also provide important ecosystem services to humanity, such as insects that pollinate our crops.
Meanwhile, since we lack a standardized system for quantifying the value of different species, it is all too easy to jump to the conclusion that they are virtually worthless. As a result, humanity has been quick to justify actions that diminish populations and even jeopardize biodiversity as a whole.
In a study published in the open scientific journal Research ideas and results, a team of Estonian and Swedish scientists proposes to formalize the value of all cash through a conceptual cash “stock market” (SSM). Just like the ordinary stock market, the SSM should serve as a unified basis for the instantaneous valuation of all elements of its holdings.
However, other aspects of the SSM would be very different from the regular stock market. Ownership, transactions and exchanges will take on new forms. Indeed, cash has no owners, and “trade” would not concern the transfer of property rights between shareholders. Instead, the concept of “sale” would include processes that erase species from a specific area – such as war, deforestation or pollution.
“The SSM would be able to put a price tag on such transactions, and the price could be seen as a bill for the seller to settle in a way that benefits global biodiversity,” says the lead author of the report. study, Professor Urmas Kõljalg (University of Tartu, Estonia).
Conversely, taking actions that benefit biodiversity – as valued by individuals of the species – would be like buying species on the stock market. The purchase also has a price, but this price should probably be considered in terms of goodwill. Here, the “money” represents an investment towards increased biodiversity.
“By rooting such actions in a unified rating system, it is hoped that goodwill actions will become increasingly difficult to dodge and reject,” adds Kõljalg.
Interestingly, the SSM revolves around the notion of digital species. They are representations of described and undescribed species whose existence is based on DNA sequences and elaborated by including everything we know about their habitat, ecology, distribution, interactions with other species and their functional traits.
For the SSM to work as described, these DNA sequences and metadata must be sourced from global scientific and societal resources, including natural history collections, sequence databases, and life science data portals. . Digital species could be further managed by incorporating data records of unsequenced individuals, including sightings, older material in collections, and data from publications.
The study proposes that the SSM be orchestrated by international associations of taxonomists and economists.
“Not inconsiderable complications are anticipated when implementing SSM in practice, but we argue that the most realistic and tangible way out of the looming biodiversity crisis is to put a price on species and therefore a cost for actions that undermine them,” says Koljalg.
“No human being will derive direct monetary benefit from the SSM, and yet all of Earth’s inhabitants – including humans – stand to benefit from its pointers.”