It was fantastic to see the Dasgupta Review published on 2 February and, at the launch at the Royal Society, recognition from both the UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, and Environment Minister, George Eustice, that transformative societal change is essential.
Led by Professor Sir Partha Dasgupta (Frank Ramsey Professor Emeritus, University of Cambridge) and commissioned in 2019 by HM Treasury, the Dasgupta Review is an independent, global review on the economics of biodiversity. It has been supported by an Advisory Panel drawn from public policy, science, economics, finance and business and, as noted on the government website, “calls for changes in how we think, act and measure economic success to protect and enhance our prosperity and the natural world. Grounded in a deep understanding of ecosystem processes and how they are affected by economic activity, the new framework presented by the Review sets out how we should account for nature in economics and decision-making.”
This is certainly a landmark report putting science and economics at the heart of how we consider nature in society. It points out that since the value of the goods and services provided by nature are open to all at no economic cost, there is a huge market distortion that has led us to invest in produced capital and to underinvest in natural capital. This simple market failure has led to wider institutional failures. Essentially, governments around the world pay more for people to destroy nature than they do to preserve it and have prioritised unsustainable economic activities. Globally, US$ 4-6 trillion is spent on subsidies that damage nature, but there are no institutional arrangements to protect global public goods, such as the oceans or rainforests.
For example, the use of the oceans is currently free – you can put a wind turbine in it, sail around it, and release effluent into it. You do not pay for an act that causes damage and affects a resource that we all rely on. And this report is saying that we should. If we pay to use the oceans, and to exploit other common goods, that payment could go towards preserving and restoring these ecosystems. For too long, the global economy and the natural environment have been seen as opposite ends of the spectrum, but they are not. They are inseparably intertwined, and the government wants to spearhead global leadership on this issue. This could lead to major change in national and international policy.
The Stern Report on the Economics of Climate Change, published in 2006, was indeed a turning point in our journey to net zero. Following on from that, legally binding targets on climate have begun to resolve externalities, provide transparency and drive investment. We now have a target to reach net zero that seems at least potentially achievable.
I am hopeful that binding international 2030 targets for habitats and species will do the same for nature, which underpins climate, and everything else we rely on.
You can read the Dasgupta Review’s report in full at gov.uk.