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Should we pay people a daily rate to protect the environment?

A conservation basic income (CBI) should be awarded to those living in fragile forests and regions of biodiversity, a new study says. Researchers believe it would incentivise communities to halt activity that causes environmental degradation.

We all know that money makes the world go round. Well, kind of.

We depend on it for survival, and as a result, we’re constantly looking for ways to make our next dollar, pound, euro, yen and so on. It’s kind of gross, but hey. That’s capitalism.

In pursuit of cash, many of the world’s richest citizens have accumulated wealth through activities that have caused serious detriment our natural world. But what if we flipped the script and started paying people to protect nature?

Novel financial agreements called debt-for-nature swaps have already started allowing countries rich in biodiversity (usually developing nations) to reduce their national debts by creating laws that better protect their local environment.

Now, a new study has suggested that a conservation basic income (CBI) of €5 per day should be paid to individuals who live in places that are home to endangered species and rich in biodiversity.

How would this work?

The plan to implement CBI would work in a similar way to universal credit.

The daily payment of €5 per person would be unconditional. It would aim to prevent those living in impoverished, but biodiverse areas from participating in industries that fuel deforestation, species extinction, and habitat loss.

This could work, as three quarters of people living in areas rich in biodiversity are located in low to middle-income nations. For communities living in these places, being employed in jobs that detract the natural landscape is often the only option.

Supplementing these citizen’s salaries would offer an economic boost and prevent unnecessary land exploitation. The daily payment would also act as an economic boost for Indigenous communities, who live in harmony with nature.

A similar program achieved great success in Costa Rica during the 1980s, where landowners were given €60 to protect or restore one hectare of forest. In Indonesia, citizens have been received cash payments for reducing deforestation activity since 2008.

So what would it take to put this new plan into action globally?


Inputting publicly available data into computer modelling, experts at the University of Edinburgh concluded that running a universal CBI scheme would cost anywhere between €322 billion to €6 trillion a year.

The exact figure would depend on three different types of payment strategies.

The first type could involve paying individuals a fixed daily rate of €5. The second option could be to pay individuals 25 percent of the national GDP per person. Or nations could be organised into tier systems (based on biodiversity levels) that fix citizens with corresponding amounts.

It is interesting to note that the total figure for paying people to protect nature would be more than the current annual budget for conservation globally (€122 billion) and less than the billion fossil fuel companies earn on average (€400 million).

The researchers in Edinburgh suggest that money for the daily payments should be taken from taxpayer pots that currently subsidise oil and gas industries. And honestly, that works out to be a better deal for everyone.