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A familiar but vital message: the Dasgupta Review on the economics of biodiversity

6 March, 2021
By Marcus Bailie

The Dasgupta Review is an independent review of the economics of biodiversity. Here, Marcus Bailie summarise the key points.

The Dasgupta Review describes itself as an independent, global review on the Economics of Biodiversity, led by economist Professor Sir Partha Dasgupta from Cambridge University.

The Review was published in February 2021 after it was initially commissioned in 2019 by HM Treasury. Since then, its work has been supported by an Advisory Panel drawn from public policy, science, economics, finance and business, and a support team.

Despite the anticipation surrounding its publication, there is really nothing in the Dasgupta Review that is particularly new. What makes it different to what has gone before, and which has often been more forcefully and clearly phrased, is that the Review was commissioned by the UK Government and in particular HM Treasury.

Hopefully this means it will be given the attention its contents deserve, and it will have the positive impact on future economic policy that’s clearly intended.

A powerful message

This is not to say that the Dasgupta Review doesn’t have powerful messages:

  • “Humanity now faces a choice: we can continue down a path where our demands on Nature far exceed its capacity to meet them on a sustainable basis, or we can take a different path, one where our engagements with Nature are not only sustainable but also enhance our collective well-being and that of our descendants.”
  • “We are destroying biodiversity, the very characteristic that until recently enabled the natural world to flourish so abundantly. If we continue this damage, whole ecosystems will collapse. That is now a real risk.”
  • “As a measure of economic activity, GDP is indispensable in short-run macroeconomic analysis and management, but it is wholly unsuitable for appraising investment projects and identifying sustainable development”.
  • “The Review has addressed the currently near-universal conception of economic progress and shown it to be wildly misleading.”

It is only fair to point out that not everything in the Dasgupta Review will be universally welcomed.

The Review’s observations and recommendations about global population have been described as ‘uncomfortable reading’, and its findings on Genetically Modified crops largely ignores the negative impact on the millions of small farmers who still provide the majority of the world’s food.

The Dasgupta Review has been compared with the highly influential Stern Review of 2006 which was also commissioned by HM Treasury. The Stern Review brought together conventional economics with the economic implications of climate change.

It famously noted, for example, that spending 1-2% of annual global gross domestic product (GDP) would likely be enough to avoid the worst effects of Global Warming, but that failing to do so would cost in excess of 20% of global GDP a year, indefinitely.

A new economics

By contrast, the Dasgupta Review brings together the ‘new economics’ with the twin realms of climate and ecology – he considers them to be inseparable issues.

The results will be familiar, on the one hand, to advocates of the New Economics Foundation (nef) and Kate Raworth’s Doughnut Economics and, on the other hand, to followers of David Attenborough who, incidentally, wrote the Foreword to the Dasgupta Review.

But there is nothing we have not heard before. Indeed, an article in the Guardian sums up the report more forcefully and articulately that the Review does.

What’s important, however, is that this important Review is not ‘swept under the carpet’ by governments and corporations that find it just another ‘inconvenient truth’ which distracts them for pursuing profits no matter what the cost to people and planet.

Read the full Review, or see a compilation of extracts and key findings.

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