Using gross ecosystem product (GEP) to value nature in decision making

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2020 Jun 23;117(25):14593-14601. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1911439117. Epub 2020 Jun 8.


Gross domestic product (GDP) summarizes a vast amount of economic information in a single monetary metric that is widely used by decision makers around the world. However, GDP fails to capture fully the contributions of nature to economic activity and human well-being. To address this critical omission, we develop a measure of gross ecosystem product (GEP) that summarizes the value of ecosystem services in a single monetary metric. We illustrate the measurement of GEP through an application to the Chinese province of Qinghai, showing that the approach is tractable using available data. Known as the "water tower of Asia," Qinghai is the source of the Mekong, Yangtze, and Yellow Rivers, and indeed, we find that water-related ecosystem services make up nearly two-thirds of the value of GEP for Qinghai. Importantly most of these benefits accrue downstream. In Qinghai, GEP was greater than GDP in 2000 and three-fourths as large as GDP in 2015 as its market economy grew. Large-scale investment in restoration resulted in improvements in the flows of ecosystem services measured in GEP (127.5%) over this period. Going forward, China is using GEP in decision making in multiple ways, as part of a transformation to inclusive, green growth. This includes investing in conservation of ecosystem assets to secure provision of ecosystem services through transregional compensation payments.

Keywords: GDP; ecosystem services; environmental–economic accounting; gross ecosystem product; natural capital.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • China
  • Conservation of Natural Resources / economics*
  • Decision Making*
  • Ecosystem*
  • Models, Economic*
  • Sustainable Development*