The critical need to reconcile economics and nature

26 March 2021
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Category Comment, FrontPage, News
26 March 2021, Comments Comments Off on The critical need to reconcile economics and nature

The February 2021 Dasgupta report highlights the terrible blind spot in economics where nature is both under-valued or ignored altogether.  This year not only sees the critical COP26 Summit in Glasgow, but also the equally important COP – of Conference of Parties – to the Convention on Biological Diversity in China in May, where the future of economic modelling and nature will be debated. 

Dasgupta headlines the shocking link between our insatiable appetite for goods against the decline in natural capital (ecosystems and species). Since 1992 and the UN Rio Summit produced (manufactured) capital has doubled, whilst natural capital has shrunk by at least 40%. In 2021 we need 1.6 Planet Earth’s worth of natural stock to cover the demand for new manufactured goods. That is clearly impossible to sustain.

Many species and habitats are teetering on the verge of annihilation. 

Against this data, the report calls for a new and imaginative economics. The report uses the example of the terrible hurricane a few years ago in the Bahamas. The storms created not just economic damage to buildings and business, but also untold damage to forest and grassland ecosystems. The buildings have been replaced and repaired and the new builds and new jobs from rebuilding have led to an actual increase in GDP; but who has accounted for the loss to nature? Rebuilding an office may be fast and good for GDP; but replanting a forest and yielding benefits from that forest is much slower but must be accounted for.

Dasgupta puts forward three urgent proposals to address the issues:

  1. Systems must be put in place to ensure demands on nature do not exceed ability to supply. This includes less reliance on meat-based diets, more upcycling etc.
  2. There must be new metrics in place to measure economic success that ensure the value of nature is fully accounted for. The UN 2020 Ecosystem Accounting proposal is a good starting point.
  3. There must be a transformation of institutions and systems that enable rapid change to happen. This must include what we teach, how we teach, how and what we finance.

David Attenborough concludes that Dasgupta has at last provided a “moral compass that we so most urgently need”.  It’s a moral compass that Christians, believing in a Creator God and a God of justice – including towards future generations – should support.

What happens next is critically important. The decisions made at the Convention on Biological Diversity in China and later at COP26 will have profound and lasting impacts on the direction of travel for nature and indeed for the very survival of many species and habitats. 

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