How much is that forest worth? The economic value of global forest ecosystems

The number of studies on valuation of forest ecosystem services is increasing over time, but limited in covering important regions and forest types. The values are diverse in nature for different forest features and ecological zones. The economic value is greatest when the ecosystem services are considered together, instead of when individual extractive uses are used in insolation.

This study presents a meta-analysis of the economic values of global forest ecosystem services. The meta-analysis is conducted based on data from primary studies published between 1990 and 2018. The value-estimates from those studies are standardized into international currency units i.e. US dollar/ha/year using the purchasing power parity of countries at 2017 price levels.

This standardization results in a database of 261 eligible primary studies and 758 value-estimates or observations. The study reveals large variations in the reported economic values of forests and the ecosystem services that they provide. Results from the meta-regression indicate a range of drivers that influence these economic values, including GDP per-capita, proportion of forest cover, continental location, type of forest, ecological zone, forest area, ecosystem services being valued and the valuation method employed. The meta-regression results also indicate the importance of valuing multiple ecosystem services together, rather than valuing specific services separately.

Distribution of value estimates by groups of ecosystem services. Number of observations in brackets

Distribution of value estimates by groups of ecosystem services (number of observations in brackets).

Research into the valuation of forest ecosystem services has been growing over the last three decades, with emphasis on informing conservation efforts. This study attempts to systematically analyse the outcomes of these studies via a meta-analysis performed on a large-scale database of 261 primary studies, together providing 758 value estimates or observations.

[R]esults demonstrate the importance of considering the value of multiples of ecosystem services and, hence, supports public policy against the management of forest for single-use, extractive industrial production, or clearing for mineral extraction and agriculture.

The study's most important finding is that when valuing ecosystem services in the aggregate, rather than specifically at extractive uses, such as logging, we reveal forests are far more valuable when let intact. This is an important implication on the trade-offs between industrial and multifunctional forest management and in how, when and who captures the monetary and non-monetary values of forests. Conservation efforts and alternative land use planning decisions also require consideration of the public goods value of ecosystem services and the trade-offs between these services and those captured privately.

For instance, plantation forests managed for industrial production have been purported to have higher values (without carefully considering the social opportunity costs of externalities) from extractive uses (e.g. timber production), potentially leading to conversion of multifunctional natural forests. Capturing the value of timber, however, could lead to a reduction in value estimates of other ecosystem services influenced by market-oriented forest management practices.

Our results demonstrate the importance of considering the value of multiples of ecosystem services and, hence, supports public policy against the management of forest for single-use, extractive industrial production, or clearing for mineral extraction and agriculture. Therefore, our results support local, regional and global efforts to protect indigenous access and use rights of forests, reduce biodiversity loss, and minimize atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations, as articulated in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which supports the survival, dignity and well-being of the Indigenous peoples, and cuts across the majority of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

In general, it is hoped that this study provides useful insights into the drivers of the economic values of forest ecosystem services.

Finally, this study reveals the role of non-market valuation methods in providing monetary values of important ecosystem services and proposes more applications of such methods to account for non-use ecosystem services, for the fact that relying on market-based methods alone is likely to systematically underestimate the values of ecosystem services derived from the world's forests.

Article authors

Fitalew Taye

Fitalew Taye

Fitalew is an environmental and resource economist whose research focuses on non-market valuation of environmental goods and services.
Chris Fleming

Chris Fleming

Chris is a Professor of Economics and Dean (Research) at the Griffith Business School. He teaches, researches, consults and provides public policy advice on the economic determinants of well-being and the sustainable management of the world around us.
Andrew Buckwell

Andrew Buckwell

Andrew is a Research Fellow at Griffith Business School with experience as an applied environmental economist focussed on micro-economic valuation and community preferences for natural resource use.
Dr Brendan Mackey

Brendan Mackey

Project Director and Director of the Griffith Climate Action Beacon at Griffith University, contributing to community planning and engagement in forest projects.


Taye, F. A., Folkersen, M. V., Fleming, C. M., Buckwell, A., Mackey, B., Diwakar, K. C., ... & Saint Ange, C. (2021). The economic values of global forest ecosystem services: A meta-analysis. Ecological Economics, 189, 107145.

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