The Dasgupta Review, commissioned by the UK Government, on the Economics of Biodiversity was published today (2 February) and argues for major overhaul in how economic success is measured.
The Dasgupta Review
Fifteen years after the publication of the Stern Review for climate change, today sees the publication of the Treasury’s commissioned Dasgupta Review on the economics of biodiversity. Just as with the Stern Review, Dasgupta states that it will be less costly to avoid losing nature now than to restore it once it is degraded or lost.
From GDP to wealth, and price to value, the review is stark in its warning and message that for future prosperity there needs to be a transformative change in what we value and how we value it. The review brings home the fundamental concept that, just as with a financial investment portfolio, diversity in nature (biodiversity) is critical to protecting against shocks and ensuring resilience.
It is increasingly clear how fragile our economies are to environmental shocks and with the climate emergency, ecosystem breakdown and concerns over food security on the horizon, the importance of our relationship with the natural world has never been more in the spotlight.
Although the review puts the cost to nature of global subsidies at several trillion dollars a year, it is notably absent in presenting a headline figure on the economic cost of biodiversity loss in monetary terms. Without knowing the authors’ reason for this, I would suggest that this was a conscious decision to avoid drawing focus to a single monetary figure when the message is about value and choice – fundamentals of economic thinking.
Far from detracting from the value of nature, the absence of a single number purely highlights the breadth and depth of the issue and just how instrumental nature is.
The Impact Inequality
Because economic markets often fail to capture what needs to be valued, we have advanced other elements of capital (produced and human capital) at the expense of our natural capital assets. Due to this omission, estimates of our total impact on nature suggest that we would require 1.6 Earths to maintain the world’s current living standards. Yet we have no planet B.
What it means for business and industry
The culmination of evidence in the review indicates that it is imperative for every business, every citizen and every government to play a role in ensuring a prosperous future. This goes far beyond corporate social responsibility and affects the future viability of every business around the world.
Whether a consumer goods company, consultancy, public services provider, supply chain contractor or landowner, a re-evaluation and re-orientation of business purpose is required. To rebalance our demand with nature’s capacity to supply, the business sector needs to fully understand the impacts and dependencies it has on nature and what is truly material.
This can best be achieved through collaboration and shared learning. Coming together to advance natural capital approaches, agree standards, incorporate multidimensional measures of value and discuss challenges can take us forward on this path. Initiatives such as Business for Nature, the Taskforce on Nature-Related Financial Disclosures and the UK Business and Biodiversity Forum are key opportunities for businesses to contribute to and inform this future direction.
With government action on the removal of harmful subsidies in favour of payment for public goods, increasing the amount of land and sea protected for nature, the establishment of landscape-scale strategies for local nature recovery, and shifts in the finance sector to investing in nature-positive solutions, the incentives for businesses to act and adapt are there.
There is no reason why every business should not be looking at its relationship with nature in the next few years in order to be future ready. Technological innovations and alternative ways of defining value are available and new business sectors and opportunities that truly embed nature will come to the fore to send us on a sustainable path.
WSP and Biodiversity
WSP has over 1,000 environmental professionals in the UK and takes its responsibility for nature seriously. In addition to supporting hundreds of clients to deliver biodiversity net gain we are taking steps to understand our own impact and influence on nature, and how we can show leadership in this space akin to our sector-leading net zero commitments.
Our involvement in the UK Business and Biodiversity Forum, signatory to the Call to Action by Business for Nature and global network of biodiversity professionals put us in a strong position to be part of the solution.
This blog was written by Jenny Merriman, Associate Director, Ecology, WSP in the UK.