Transform economics to halt destruction of the natural world, UK study urges

by Reuters
Tuesday, 2 February 2021 16:31 GMT

The Simme river flows down a waterfall, days ahead of federal elections, in Lenk, Switzerland. Picture taken October 14, 2019 and with a long exposure. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

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The report urges policy-makers to accept that all business activity is 'embedded' within nature, and to begin to value ecosystems accordingly

(Adds quotes from Dasgupta, Johnson, Attenborough)

By Matthew Green

LONDON, Feb 2 (Reuters) - Nations will have to rethink economic growth as a measure of success if they want to make good on pledges to halt the destruction of the natural world, according to a British government-backed report published on Tuesday.

With countries due to meet in China this year to agree on a new global accord to protect biodiversity, studies have sought to underscore the financial benefits of preserving forests, oceans and other species-rich habitats.

The authors of the latest review, commissioned by Britain's finance ministry in March, 2019, hope its official status will lend extra weight to their calls to place ecosystems at the centre of economic decision-making.

"The review finds that in recent decades, eroding natural capital – or nature – has been precisely the means the world economy has deployed for enjoying what is routinely celebrated as economic growth," Partha Dasgupta, a University of Cambridge economist who led the study, told an online launch.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, whose government hosts a climate change summit in November, welcomed Dasgupta's findings.

"He shows that far from existing in opposition, the economy and our ecology are in fact inseparably intertwined...and proves to us that going green actually creates more jobs," Johnson said in a video message.

In a wide-ranging critique of conventional economics, the 602-page report urges policymakers to accept that all business activity is "embedded" within nature, and to begin to value ecosystems accordingly.

The report's recommendations reflect a wider debate over whether gross domestic product is an appropriate measure of success, or whether alternative measures could be used to reflect environmental degradation.

"GDP does not account for the depreciation of assets, including the natural environment," the report says. "As our primary measure of economic success, it therefore encourages us to pursue unsustainable economic growth and development."

Instead, the authors propose a concept of "inclusive wealth" that would reflect the health of a country's assets - including its natural assets.

They also call for new ways of assessing the value of the many benefits that nature provides, from clean air and fertile soils to pollination, which the authors say would enable policymakers to better assess trade-offs.

British naturalist David Attenborough said the report could help galvanise environmental action.

"It will provide guidance for both ecologists, economists and politicians who have the responsibility...to help avoid the disasters that currently threaten the very future of all life on this planet," Attenborough told the launch. (Reporting by Matthew Green, editing by Katy Daigle, Nick Macfie and Timothy Heritage)

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