Biodiversity is declining faster than at any time in human history. Since 1970, there has been on average almost a 70% decline in the populations of mammals, birds, fish, reptiles and amphibians. It is thought that one million animal and plant species — almost a quarter of the global total — are threatened with extinction. At the same time, the human population has doubled (from 3.6 billion to over 7 billion), the global economy has grown nearly fourfold and, according to the global assessment report on BIODIVERSITY AND ECOSYSTEM SERVICES, global trade has grown tenfold, together driving up the demand for energy and materials.
“These losses in biodiversity are undermining the productivity, resilience and adaptability of nature. This is, in turn, putting economies, livelihoods and well-being at risk.” – In early February 2021, the British government presented a report , the Dasgupta Review , on the economics of biodiversity. It was written by the highly respected environmental economist Sir Patha-Dasgupta, of the University of Cambridge, on behalf of the Ministry of Finance.
This Dasgupta Review is considered to be of similar importance to a 1972 report commissioned by the Club of Rome. Authored by Donella Meadows, Dennis Meadows, Jørgen Randers, and William W. Behrens III (representing a team of 17 researchers), “Limits to Growth” is thought of as the founding document of the environmental movement.
After examing the Dasgupta Review the Global Footprint Network commented: “The report is a strong reference piece for grounding economics on an ecological foundation. It confirms the significance of ecological overshoot and helps build the bridge that links climate, biodiversity, and the human economy. Overshoot is not only driving down biodiversity, but also the human economy. It makes clear the need to stay within the regenerative capacity of the planet. And the implications are unambiguous: we measure the wrong things, and we undervalue nature.”
The Review’s headline messages expose the economic consequences of the destruction of the natural foundations of life. The professor calls for a more sustainable approach to nature and presents a new economic framework that should make it possible to preserve and increase biodiversity and prosperity in equal measure:
“Our economies, livelihoods and well-being all depend on our most precious asset: Nature. We are part of Nature, not separate from it.
We rely on Nature to provide us with food, water and shelter; regulate our climate and disease; maintain nutrient cycles and oxygen production; and provide us with spiritual fulfilment and opportunities for recreation and recuperation, which can enhance our health and well-being. We also use the planet as a sink for our waste products, such as carbon dioxide, plastics and other forms of waste, including pollution. Nature is therefore an asset, just as produced capital (roads, buildings and factories) and human capital (health, knowledge and skills) are assets. Like education and health, however, Nature is more than an economic good: many value its very existence and recognize its intrinsic worth too. Biodiversity enables Nature to be productive, resilient and adaptable. Just as diversity within a portfolio of financial assets reduces risk and uncertainty, so diversity within a portfolio of natural assets increases Nature’s resilience to shocks, reducing the risks to Nature’s services. Reduce biodiversity, and Nature and humanity suffer.“
Dasgupta concludes: “We have collectively failed to engage with Nature sustainably, to the extent that our demands far exceed its capacity to supply us with the goods and services we all rely on.
The solution starts with understanding and accepting a simple truth: our economies are embedded within Nature, not external to it.
Our unsustainable engagement with Nature is endangering the prosperity of current and future generations.
We need to change how we think, act and measure success.”
Dasgupta offers four ways to close the yawning gap between the global ecological footprint and the regenerative capacity of the biosphere:
- Reducing global per capita consumption;
- Reducing the world’s population;
- Increasing the efficiency with which goods and services are delivered;
- And investing more to conserve and regenerate natural systems.
“Transformative change is possible – we and our descendants deserve nothing less.
At their core, the problems we face today are no different from those our ancestors faced: how to find a balance between what humanity takes from Nature and what we leave behind for our descendants. While our ancestors were incapable of affecting the Earth system as a whole, we are doing just that”, Dasgupta says.
For more information, listen here in this video of the Royal Society to the Prince of Wales, Sir David Attenborough and Nobel-prize winning biologist Sir Venki Ramakrishnan joining Professor Sir ParthaDasgupta when outlining the Review’s central findings.