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Rhodes University (2022)

A framework for the economic valuation of wetland rehabilitation : case studies from South Africa

Browne, Michelle

Titre : A framework for the economic valuation of wetland rehabilitation : case studies from South Africa

Auteur : Browne, Michelle

Université de soutenance : Rhodes University

Grade : Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) 2022

Wetlands are recognised as having the potential to contribute long-term benefits to society ; wetland rehabilitation is undertaken to recover these benefits in response to widespread wetland degradation. Increasingly, there have been calls to value the benefits of wetland rehabilitation to justify further investment. Such is the case in South Africa. Furthermore, recent global agendas and targets for ecosystem restoration, such as the declaration of the Decade of Restoration 2021-2030, suggest increasing pressure on governments to implement rehabilitation and imply a concomitant increase in decision-making regarding where and how to rehabilitate. In response to these information needs, this thesis explores the economic valuation of wetland rehabilitation through a narrative review of the foundational theory of values and valuation, a quantitative review of applied wetland rehabilitation economic valuation studies, and the evaluation of five wetland rehabilitation projects from South Africa. Projects were selected as case studies to represent various rehabilitation goals and explore different contexts (urban-rural ; beneficiary groups), the timing of the evaluation (ex ante, ex post) and value types and valuation methods. The final chapter of the thesis integrates the case study experiences with the findings of the theoretical research components to propose a framework for the valuation of wetland rehabilitation, which can be applied in South Africa, and more generally, to further demonstrate the values of wetland rehabilitation, and as a tool to guide wetland rehabilitation decision-making. While initially grounded in mainstream economics, the research led into a number of fields including philosophy, social-ecological systems and social-ecological relations thinking, several environmental science areas and livelihood and human well-being frameworks. A deeper look into economic theory and history revealed an evolution of thinking on the meaning of ‘value’ and view of ‘nature’ and numerous critiques of standard neoclassical economics. From the insights gained and the case study experiences, this thesis argues that the neoclassical economic perspective, especially combined with a monetary metric, is too restrictive, and arguably too abstract in its assumptions of human behaviour and reliance on mathematical models, as an overarching framework for the valuation of wetland rehabilition. This is not to suggest that standard economic valuation concepts and methods cannot be useful, as the research case studies illustrated, but rather that wetland valuation must be approached from a value pluralism perspective. To this end, the proposed framework offers a way to think beyond, or in addition to, standard economic approaches in articulating the values of wetland rehabilitation.

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