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UK Treasury-commissioned report calls for nature to be at heart of economics

Natural world should be key element in economic planning, urges Cambridge U. economist Partha Dasgupta; says growth and prosperity have ‘come at a devastating cost to nature”

Illustrative: Fishermen work in the Tapajos river in the Alter do Chao district of Santarem, Para state, Brazil, August 27, 2020. (AP Photo/Andre Penner, FILE)
Illustrative: Fishermen work in the Tapajos river in the Alter do Chao district of Santarem, Para state, Brazil, August 27, 2020. (AP Photo/Andre Penner, FILE)

LONDON (AP) — A report commissioned by the British government is urging a radical transformation in the way that countries around the world assess the state of their economies by elevating the natural world as a key element in their economic planning.

The review of the economics of biodiversity by Professor Partha Dasgupta concludes that nature needs to become as valued as traditional gauges of economic wealth such as profits in the future.

In the 600-page review, commissioned in 2019 by Britain’s Treasury, the University of Cambridge economist warned that current economic growth and prosperity have “come at a devastating cost to nature.” He said declines in biodiversity and the environment’s ability to provide food, clean water and air are “fueling extreme risk and uncertainty for our economies and well-being.”

The coronavirus pandemic and the associated economic calamity is just one illustration, he said, of what can happen when habitats are destroyed and species exploited.

Prof. Partha Dasgupta. (Niccolò Caranti, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons)

“Nature is more than a mere economic good,” he said. “Nature nurtures and nourishes us, so we will think of assets as durable entities that not only have use value, but may also have intrinsic worth.”

Dasgupta called on the world to ensure demands on nature do not exceed sustainable supplies, by changing food production and consumption, investing in natural solutions such as restoring forests and protecting natural habitats. He said coordinated action now would in the long-run be less costly and would also help tackle other issues such as climate change and poverty.

Additionally, he pointed to a need to move away from using gross domestic product, or GDP, as a measure of economic success toward one that accounts for the benefits of investing in natural assets such as forests, soils and oceans.

“As a measure of economic activity, GDP is indispensable in short-run macroeconomic analysis and management, but it is wholly unsuitable for appraising investment projects and identifying sustainable development,” he said.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street in London, to attend the weekly Prime Minister’s Questions at the Houses of Parliament, in London, September 16, 2020. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

Responding to the report, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the coming year is “critical” in efforts to stop and reverse declining biodiversity.

He said that the UK, which is this year president of the Group of Seven leading economies and hosting the 26th global UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties, is “going to make sure the natural world stays right at the top of the global agenda.”

Countries are also due to meet in China later this year to agree on new efforts to tackle biodiversity declines.

In a foreword to the report, naturalist and broadcaster David Attenborough said economics was a discipline that shapes decisions of the “utmost consequence” and the review put biodiversity at its core.

Ilustrative: Cattle on JBS Five Rivers Cattle Feeding lots near Kersey, Colo; August 28, 2009. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)

He noted that humans, together with the livestock reared for consumption, constitute 96% of the mass of all mammals on the planet, with the rest — from elephants to monkeys — accounting for just 4%. He also pointed to the fact that 70% of all birds alive are poultry, mostly chickens for human consumption.

“We are destroying biodiversity, the very characteristic that until recently enabled the natural world to flourish so abundantly,” he said.

He said the report “shows us how, by bringing economics and ecology together, we can help save the natural world at what may be the last minute — and in doing so, save ourselves.”

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