New TEEB for Business report contains multiple errors

28 Jul

Last month I found several errors in the first chapter of the TEEB’s interim report, which led to their issuing of a Corrigendum correcting their mistakes, and others. On July 13’th, they issued a new report: the TEEB for Business report. In the first few days after the report was issued, I looked at the document and found a few errors, but I was busy so I waited to write about them. I’ve spent a little more time recently, and here are a few errors in the document.

Here is an error in the first chapter. The following claim appears:

For example, the disturbance or conversion of coastal ecosystems – particularly mangrove forests and vegetated dunes – typically results in greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change. Such removals may also exacerbate the severity of climate change impacts such as coastal flooding (Dahdouh-Guebas et al. 2005). Conversely, rising and increasingly stormy seas – which are among the expected impacts of climate change – can accelerate the loss of some coastal ecosystems, particularly inter-tidal mudflats and mangroves (Sharp 2000).

Sharp 2000 is referenced as:

Sharp, J. (2000) Coast in Crisis, Protecting wildlife from sea level rise and climate change, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, UK. URL: (last access 17 June 2010)

Here is a quote from the document:

Coasts are places of dynamic change – much of the landscape and ecological value of the coast has been formed by the sea. However the coast of Eastern England is no longer a pristine wilderness…. There is an urgent need to create new intertidal habitats as part of a sustainable coastal defence strategy for Eastern England which will benefit biodiversity, flood defence, fisheries and people.

Can you spot one error already? The TEEB claim ends “and mangroves”, yet this report is entirely about Eastern England. There are no mangroves in Eastern England. The report doesn’t mention them once. This was verified when I contacted the author of the report. He stated that he didn’t mention mangroves because they don’t have them in Eastern England, but he stated that “they are the tropical equivalent of saltmarsh, which is what the passage referred to ought to have mentioned”. They didn’t mention saltmarshes, however.

That isn’t the only problem with this claim. The claim really is about increasing storminess which can create problems. However, the report only mentions this in passing, without citation, and has not done any research on it whatsoever (or doesn’t mention it). Here is the passing reference:

Coasts are places of dynamic change – much of the landscape and ecological value of the coast has been formed by the sea. However the coast of Eastern England is no longer a pristine wilderness. Natural change is constrained by man-made development resulting in habitats being squeezed by fixed flood defences, rising sea levels and increasing ‘storminess’ due to climate change. Consequently coastal habitats are vanishing at a frightening rate, with drastic implications for the wildlife that depends on them.

That’s it. Hardly a valid source for such a claim. There is a third error, and perhaps the most comical. The author’s name is Sharpe, not Sharp. Oops.

There are two errors in Chapter 5: Increasing biodiversity business opportunities. The first deals with organic cotton:

In the garment and textile sector, organic cotton has become a marketing tool for many companies. Today, organic cotton cultivation covers about 32 million hectares of land (FiBL and IFOAM 2009).

The citation is referenced as:

FiBL and IFOAM (2009) The World of Organic Agriculture. Statistics and Emerging Trends 2009. Bonn, Frick, Geneva.

The 2009 version was unavailable, but the 2007 version is right here. Here is a graph from the document:

A rough estimate might be about 100,000 hectares based on the graph. Even if it is twice that, this isn’t even close to 32 million. Unless organic cotton yields increased 32,000% in two years, this is wrong. Another source verifies this. In February of this year, Organic Exchange (they work with organic cotton) issued a press release entitled, Global Organic Cotton Production Grows 20% in 2009, New Organic Exchange Report Shows. In it, the following statistic appears:

Organic cotton weathered the global economic storm during the 2008/09 farming season, albeit with challenges, according to a new report by Organic Exchange (OE) documenting growth and challenges in the global organic fiber sector. Production grew an impressive 20 percent over 2007/08 to 175,113 metric tons (802,599 bales) grown on 625,000 acres (253,000 hectares).

There you have it, 253,000 hectares of organically grown cotton, not 32 million. My guess is the mistake happened as such: The ‘key results’ section for the 2009 report makes the following claim:

32.2 million hectares of agricultural land are managed organically by more than 1.2 million producers, including smallholders (2007).

This was misinterpreted to mean cotton production only, not all organic production. Sloppy, sloppy.

The second error in Chapter 5 deals with medical and aromatic plants, or MAPs. The claim appears:

Many businesses use wild genetic resources as inputs to production. Over 400,000 tons of medicinal and aromatic plants are traded worldwide every year; 80% are wild harvested, mostly without consideration of where they come from or the sustainability of collection practices (Traffic International 2006). Demand continues to grow for these plants.

Traffic International 2006 is referenced as:

Traffic International (2006) Traffic Bulletin, Vol. 21 No. 1 (July).

Here is a link to this bulletin. Search the article all you want, the figures in the claim are not in their source. The claim does appear the Traffic website however, but not in their bulletin. It appears in this press release. Notice there is no citation for the claim. Evidently the claim was taken from a press release, but cited as if it were in their bulletin.

Where did the claim come from? I’m not sure, the claim is all over the internet, but it is usually cited as Traffic International. The closest I can come is this paper, which does say 400,000 t, but doesn’t make the 80% claim (at least in the abstract). Anyways, the TEEB claim doesn’t match their source.

This report focused much less on science and the plight of our planet, and more on business than the interim report. The original report contained errors of statistics and claims about how our planet is being harmed. Because there is significantly less of that type of material in this report, there seems to be fewer mistakes. However, it isn’t error-free, and these type of government-sponsored reports must be looked at very skeptically. This skepticism may arise from a concern that the report is intended to be used as justification for further government action. However, I am skeptical mostly because these reports are always so sloppy! It has the appearance of being written first and sourced later. In my opinion, businesses don’t need a UN report to tell them about the environment. If helping the environment helps them, they will do it. If it hurts them, they probably won’t. A UN report won’t change that, but new regulations and laws (based on the UN report) might.



Posted by on July 28, 2010 in Uncategorized


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5 responses to “New TEEB for Business report contains multiple errors

  1. Rose

    July 28, 2010 at 10:35 am

    Isn’t this the “first release” of the report, specifically slated for public comment? Why don’t you submit your suggestions to the authors–which would be most helpful, I’m sure–instead of complaining about them here?

  2. Sam

    July 28, 2010 at 12:38 pm

    I have brought these to the attention of the authors, and I expect they will correct them just as they have previously done. There is nothing wrong with publicly pointing out their errors before they are corrected. They have published this report online for all to read, and correct, as they so desire.

  3. Josh

    July 28, 2010 at 1:36 pm

    Dear Sam – thanks for pointing out these apparent errors in the TEEB for Business report, which we will examine carefully. As noted, this is a consultation draft open for comment until 6 September. Comments, corrections and constructive criticism from readers like you will help us improve the report before its final publication. I encourage you to keep reading and send or post more comments as you see fit.

  4. Sam

    July 28, 2010 at 2:01 pm

    Thanks for the quick response. Glad to help improve the report, as I said in the article, it’s a notch above the interim report.


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