To ensure global economic progress without compromising biodiversity, we must rebalance nature’s supply and demand.
At the beginning of February, the full program Dasgupta Review The Economics of Biodiversity was published by the UK government, exploring the significant impact of biodiversity and natural capital.
The review offers methodologies for including the intrinsic value of nature as an asset, such as including nature’s contributions in estimates of sustainable GDP growth by incorporating parameters such as resources extracted, sea level and exploited landscapes, ecosystem services, climate change, habitat degradation and pollution.
Given the historical depreciation of these assets in many habitats, we cannot use the current state of the depleted nature as a valid baseline. To ensure global economic progress without compromising biodiversity, we must first rebalance nature’s supply and demand. We need to take these non-fungible assets into account and recognize that we all lose when we push habitats beyond what is ecologically and ecologically safe.
This devastating trend is well documented by the approximately 40% drop in the value of natural capital per person between 1992 and 2014 (2), and the 2019 IPBES Global Assessment Report for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. projecting a loss of a million species over the next few decades.
Living on the edge or beyond that tipping point is no longer an option with just one land available and not the 1.6 lands estimated to be needed to maintain our current standard of living, according to the review.
Understanding that the dichotomous nature of protecting biodiversity is inextricably linked with ensuring economic prosperity is as important as identifying what is involved in real healthy and sustainable development. We should never underestimate the resilience and the value of a healthy ecosystem also for human subsistence and a “gross natural impact” factor should be part of a true estimate of GDP.
This arduous task requires continued input and wise guidance not only from academics in all academic disciplines, but also from indigenous experts and local communities around the world. Being open to inspiring criticism of Dasgupta while considering subsequent critiques is a promising way for our societies to grow, learn and continue to take responsible action for the overall benefit of future generations.
It is interesting to link the economics of biodiversity to the Donut business model, proposed in a 2012 Oxfam article by British economist Kate Raworth. This model conceptualizes how the 20th century economic system is inadequate in the face of the current climate and biodiversity crisis and emphasizes that GDP is not an acceptable measure of success.
Raworth describes the donut as an ideal point between two concentric circles where the good life resides: the inner circle consists of 11 dimensions of well-being based on the UN Global Goals while the outer circle is based on nine ecological dimensions. and key climate. Citizens of poorer countries often fall below the social floor, and citizens of richer countries tend to maximize the environmental ceiling.
To simultaneously raise the poorest and most vulnerable while shaking up the broken ceilings, several cities around the world have set up a donut economy. The theory forms the basis of the C40 network’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and climate change and has now been adopted more broadly as part of the C40 city mayors’ strategy of ‘No Return’. business as usual ”after the pandemic.
By actively and systematically valuing sustainable development, biodiversity and the ecosystem services that continuously support both our lives and livelihoods, there is also an economic incentive to live within the confines of the planet.
Determining the value of well-functioning biodiverse habitats is complex and includes a myriad of defined ecosystem services. Along with natural capital resources, all of these factors are incorporated into the United Nations Convention on Biodiversity and the EU’s biodiversity strategy. Is it even possible to calculate the importance of ecosystem services like pollination, providing value by fertilizing fruits, berries, nuts and nightshade crops?
If pollinators go away, would it be the cost of mechanical or manual pollination that we need to consider and is it per crop or should economists rely on pollination being required for ~ 35% of our crops at herbal? These are the types of extremely complex questions that the 600-page Dasgupta journal seeks to answer in addition to emphasizing the importance of continuing environmental education in conjunction with increased and improved management of protected areas.
One of the many concerns highlighted in the review is that nature is being exploited and undermined to a degree that invokes instability and can also cause new infectious diseases, including Covid-19. Another point is the total disconnection from nature that many people experience due to increased urbanization across the world. Due to pandemic lockdowns, more and more people are turning to exploring the outdoors to feel the therapeutic effect of nature if they are lucky enough to be able to afford it.
This new appreciation for nature increases our collective awareness of the state of many natural habitats: some remain intact while too many have been disturbed. It prompts us all to rethink our old ways and “needs”, to transform existing norms and to minimize consumerism for the benefit of our planet. This goes hand in hand with the reduce-reuse-recycle-rethink mentality of the circular economy.
To implement these changes, Dasgupta points out that “there is a strong justification for quantitative restrictions on pricing mechanisms”.
Dasgupta’s criticism has been very well received by leading economists and environmentalists, while critics have expressed additional or conflicting views. An example of valid criticism is that not everything can be (easily) capitalized, and especially not sustainable ecosystems or biodiversity. To ignore the immense value that nature provides in the form of resources, services and natural goodwill seems unreasonable to absurd given that economic growth is inextricably linked to natural assets while simultaneously leading to loss of biodiversity.
The obvious question is what the alternative is given that the established standard of taking natural actives for granted is far from a feasible path, and certainly not sustainable. Time and time again, the cost of conservation has been found to be significantly lower compared to the cost of restoration, which is akin to prevention being much less expensive than treatment when it comes to health.
Yet other critics argue that this is not the first report to identify these disparities given that the Convention on Biodiversity, IPBES and similar major intergovernmental platforms continually explore these topics. The criticism simply highlights the complexity of the issue, increases our collective awareness, and hopefully pushes our decision-makers to implement improved sustainable measures for the benefit of global society.
Ensuring that government grants are restructured to protect and benefit nature instead of causing damage is one of the many areas that need special attention.
The Dasgupta review was commissioned before the pandemic, and Covid-19 has demonstrated time and again how quickly we can in fact implement badly needed changes when needed. It will be exciting to follow how our decision-makers and politicians integrate sustainable ideas of biodiversity economics with environmental parameters already implemented in C40 cities and beyond.
Orchestrated correctly, the combined recommendations of Dasgupta and Raworth can transform our lives and our already mature economies to set new sustainable goals without compromising biodiversity and the environment. Overall, these efforts can minimize unfair disparities and human environmental impact, and positively transform our planet into a balanced planet.