The Dasgupta Review: it's time to invest in nature

Tufted ducks © Jon Hawkins - Surrey Hills Photography

Today, we welcome the publication of the Dasgupta Review, an independent review on the economics of biodiversity. But what does it tell us? Elliot Chapman-Jones, Head of Public Affairs, explains below.

In Spring 2019, the UK’s Chancellor of the Exchequer commissioned an independent review on the economics of biodiversity, to be led by Professor Sir Partha Dasgupta.

The Review, published today, is the first of its kind and should shine a light on how a better appreciation of the value of nature can help us build more resilient economies and achieve sustainable prosperity.

 

What does it say?

The Review’s key message is that we are failing to manage our most precious asset - nature. 

Despite our economies being embedded within nature, it is not valued by our current economic system. This failure has led to our unsustainable exploitation of the natural world – with the gulf between the demands put on nature for economic growth and its ability to regenerate becoming too large.

The Review warns that unless we fix this, the prosperity of current and future generations is at risk.

To protect our natural world and future prosperity, it calls for urgent and transformative change in how we think, act and measure economic success.

The Review presents a new framework on how we should account for nature in economics and decision making to ensure we live within our environmental limits.

 

Why is this important?

The message that we have taken nature for granted for too long will not be new to those of us who have long recognised the vital importance of nature to our health, wellbeing, and future prosperity.

A Sheffield roadside © Paul Hobson

A Sheffield roadside © Paul Hobson

But, by setting out a robust analytical framework to demonstrate how our flawed economic policies are driving nature’s decline, the Review has the potential to spur action across the globe to make the most of opportunities to reverse this downward trend.

It shows that good economics is achieved by ensuring nature recovers. With the pressures on nature set to get even greater in the coming years, the most expensive thing we can do is to carry on with business as usual.

 

What needs to happen next?

With scientists, economists and the public agreeing that urgent action is needed to stop the alarming rate of nature's decline, the time is now for politicians to act.

The Review sets out the actions Government should be taking to protect the foundation of our future prosperity – nature.

To build a greener and stronger economy, The Wildlife Trusts believe the Government should urgently prioritise four key actions:

1. Stop investing in nature-destroying industries

The Review makes clear that if we continue to damage the natural world, we will put our future prosperity at risk and only drive up costs in the long run. We must change the rules and put a stop to investments in activities that destroy nature.

Action from the Treasury is essential in delivering the transformation that Dasgupta calls for and its first big test will be the upcoming Budget in March. The reckless destruction of the Government’s £27 billion road-building programme announced last year will devastate the very ecosystems that our economy relies upon. This cannot continue.

Where infrastructure projects do go ahead, they must help nature in the way that it so desperately needs. However, the UK’s biggest and most destructive infrastructure projects, such as HS2, are currently exempt from the rules to deliver ‘net gain’ – the principle that any new development should more than make up for its impact on nature. If the Government is serious about listening to what the Dasgupta Review says, this needs to change.

To ensure that nature’s recovery is hardwired into the Treasury’s decision making, a new explicit UK Treasury objective to restore and maintain biodiversity should be adopted. This would provide a safeguard to protect against future short-sighted policies that further harm our natural assets.

2. Start investing in nature’s recovery

Simply halting nature-destroying investments will not be enough to reverse the long-term damage done to nature. Investments must be nature positive, putting us on a path to restoring the natural world and winning the fight against the climate and ecological emergency.

However, our current level of investment in biodiversity falls woefully short. In fact, public sector investment in biodiversity has fallen by almost 34% over the past five years.

Between 2010-2015, the UK invested an average of £610m on biodiversity compared with Germany, who invested an average of £1,180m annually.

The Government should listen to calls for an additional £1 billion investment per annum, year on year, to reverse wildlife decline and kickstart nature’s recovery – we need ambitious investment of this magnitude if we are really to set the UK on a path to a green recovery.

Recognising the value of investing in nature to rebuild the nation can deliver so much more than simply increasing our resilience to future economic and environmental shocks. In America, one of Joe Biden’s first acts as President was to sign an executive order to create a "Civilian Climate Corps” – skilling people up and putting them to work on projects to restore biodiversity and tackle climate change.

It is time that the UK also recognised the value and opportunities in investing in green jobs to boost employment, particularly for young and disadvantaged groups, and fast-track nature restoration.

3. Agree strong new global goals for nature’s recovery

2-spot Ladybird

2-spot Ladybird ©Rachel Scopes

The Review shows that the loss of nature is a global issue - biodiversity loss in one place will have profound impacts on people’s lives, wellbeing and prosperity in another. But this also means that we need global solutions.

The Review’s publication is perfectly timed as two key international summits to address biodiversity loss and climate change are happening later this year. With the UK hosting the climate conference COP26, as well as holding the presidency of the G7, it is uniquely placed to spearhead international ambition to agree strong new global goals to restore the abundance of wildlife across our planet.

The Prime Minister has pledged to reverse nature’s decline by 2030 and has been calling on other world leaders to do the same – but there is currently no legal duty to meet this commitment. Setting a legally binding target in the Environment Bill would send a powerful statement of intent and set a direction that the rest of the world could follow.

Just as the UK led the way in creating the world’s first Climate Change Act, we should be the first country to set ambitious targets in law for nature’s recovery.

4. Make nature central to our education

The Review also recognises that at the heart of our unsustainable engagement with nature lies deep-rooted and widespread institutional failure. To enable the changes we want to see, our institutions also need to change – this should start with our education system.

By experiencing the natural world, people are far more likely to take better care of it. But inadequate teaching and learning for all ages is creating a growing disconnection between people and the natural world. If we don’t take the opportunity to ensure that future generations nurture a connection to nature through nature-based learning, nothing will change.

Learning about our natural world should be embedded within the education system at all levels, through the Natural History GCSE and by ensuring at least an hour of learning outside every day. The evidence shows that this will improve children’s confidence and educational attainment, their mental and physical wellbeing, as well as teaching them the skills they need for the future.

 

Urgent change is needed

Human economic activity, from development and infrastructure to unsustainable farming practices and pollution, has devastated our natural environment. Decade after decade we have continued to see declines in our wildlife – with 1 in 7 species in the UK now under threat from extinction.

The Dasgupta Review shows that rather than fuelling economic development, this damaging activity has eroded the very foundation on which our economy sits. If we don’t address this now and start to live within our environmental limits, the prosperity of future generations is at risk.

The Review should be a message to the Government to start to embed the real changes our economy needs to deliver a truly green recovery. The opportunities that investing in nature presents are huge – and the chance to lead a change in thinking and policy across the world is one our Government should not miss.

How you can help

As a charity we rely on memberships. They help us look after over 2,300 nature reserves and protect the animals that call them home. Please consider becoming a member of your local Wildlife Trust today.

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