Dasgupta: A new sustainable yardstick to measure success

Photo by Katrina Martin/2020Vision

If we are to turn the tide of nature’s decline, we need to look at the driving forces of that decline, one of which is our lauding of growing economies whilst turning a blind eye to the destruction of nature.

On 2 February, a review on the economics of biodiversity, produced by Professor Dasgupta, was published. The review finds that as a species we have mismanaged our “global portfolio” and that our demands have exceeded nature’s capacity to supply the “goods and services” that we rely on.

One of the most significant findings of the review is that GDP is no longer fit for purpose as it is “based on a faulty application of economics” that fails to include “depreciation of assets” in the natural world as we use them.

Prof Dasgupta finds that “truly sustainable economic growth and development means recognising that our long-term prosperity relies on rebalancing our demand of nature’s goods and services with its capacity to supply them.”

an economy should not be considered thriving if its natural capital is plummeting

Applying such financial language to our natural world will send shivers down the spines of some, whilst including the value of ecosystem services in the national balance sheet is seen as long overdue by others.

The language used is that of an economist, not an ecologist, but if we are to turn the tide of nature’s decline, we need to look at the driving forces of that decline, one of which is our lauding of growing economies whilst turning a blind eye to the destruction of nature. This review finds that an economy should not be considered thriving if its natural capital is plummeting. 

Houses and wild flowers

The Dasgupta Review shows that nature needs to be at the heart of our economy, lives and ambitions. Photo by Kieron Huston

To that end, the review finds that we need to increase our natural assets and increase our planet’s natural capital so that human demands on nature do not exceed what nature can sustainably provide.

Natural capital is the stock of natural resources that provide benefits to us and have economic value. It is important to recognise that the concept of natural capital is not intended to replace the existing shared and personal reasons we love and value nature. Such reasons, like our natural affinity towards other species and our emotional connection to the outdoors, are not rendered irrelevant or obsolete. Those reasons continue, and for many of us remain the prime reasons we work to protect nature.

Natural capital simply provides yet another reason to restore and protect nature, as Professor Dieter Helm recently explained during a visit to BBOWT’s Chimney Meadows Nature Reserve. After all, the true value of the natural environment to us is infinite as without it we could not survive.

River Thames backwaters

Backwaters of River Thames at Duxford Old River by Andrew Marshall/Go Wild Landscapes

When making the case for restoring nature, natural capital can be a powerful tool. By showing the value of restoring rivers to provide clean water, creating habitats to store carbon or improving wetlands to provide flood relief, we can attract financial investment to fund projects that help nature recover.

We can also better protect habitats by showing not only their intrinsic worth, but also economic value to our area and communities. We need to use every tool at our disposal to fight for nature, and natural capital is another tool in our armory. Natural capital is highly relevant to the work of the Wildlife Trusts, and we explain how natural capital is relevant to BBOWT’s work here

At BBOWT we are working with farmers and landowners to develop nature based solutions, create habitats and therefore increase the natural capital on their land. Nature based solutions are actions to protect, sustainably manage and restore our ecosystems to provide human wellbeing, enhance biodiversity and create a more resilient economy. They are a win-win for people and the environment. 

Lapwing and golden plover at Chimney Meadows

Hundreds of lapwing and golden plover at Chimney Meadows Nature Reserve in winter. Allowing parts of the meadows that make up the farm to flood naturally creates a home for declining farmland birds. Photo by Louise King.

You can read more about BBOWT’s very own nature based solution at Chimney Meadows, at the heart of the Upper Thames Living Landscape, which is a prime example of how conservation can restore functioning landscapes and help in the fight against climate change.

If we are going to have a truly green recovery, the criteria against which we measure any recovery must change, and the Dasgupta Review shows that nature needs to be at the heart of our economy, lives and ambitions.

At The Wildlife Trusts, we believe the Government needs to prioritise four key actions:

  1. Stop investing in nature-destroying industries
  2. Start investing in nature’s recovery
  3. Agree strong new global goals for nature’s recovery
  4. Make nature central to our education

Everyone needs to understand that nature is worth more to us alive than dead, and that to destroy it, is to destroy our own future.