Spending to protect the environment, from coral reefs to forests, can bring big returns to aid a worldwide assault on poverty, a U.N.-backed report said on Wednesday.

The study, coinciding with a summit of world leaders in New

York, even suggested that forests may be more valuable when left standing rather than being cleared for crops because trees
can absorb the heat-trapping gases widely blamed for global warming.

“The environment…is not a luxury good, only affordable when all other problems have been solved,” said Klaus Toepfer, head of the U.N. Environment Program (UNEP) which was among 30 international groups behind the report.

The study estimated that annual investments of $60-$90 billion in the environment over 10-15 years were needed to reach a world goal of halving the proportion of humanity living
on less than a dollar a day, currently more than a billion people.

A further $80 billion a year was needed to limit global warming, widely linked to gases from burning fossil fuels in factories, cars and power plants, over the next 50 years.

Once invested, it said that every dollar spent on clean water and sanitation in the Third World, for instance, could bring $14 in benefits ranging from lower health care costs to higher work productivity and school attendance.

“Conservation of habitats and ecosystems are also cost effective when compared with the short-term profits from environmentally damaging activities” including dynamite fishing, mining or deforestation, it said.

Every dollar invested in fighting land degradation and desertification, like building terraces to stop hillside erosion, could generate at least $3 in benefits, the Poverty Environment Partnership report estimated.

By Alister Doyle

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