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expert reaction to the Dasgupta review on the economics of biodiversity

The review from Professor Sir Partha Dasgupta sets out the ways in which we should account for nature in economics and decision making.


Prof John Spicer, Professor of Marine Zoology, University of Plymouth, said:

“24 years ago the ecological economist Robert Constanza and colleagues calculated that even if we could pay from biodiversity there is not enough money globally to pay for it. Updated seven years ago a similar study showed an even greater disparity. That biodiversity has real economic value is not new. That biodiversity loss will have to be paid for is not new. The Dasgupta review continuing this theme shows the hidden costs in our accounting of the Earth’s natural bounty. COVID-19 is  showing us transformative change is possible. Even trasforming how we value our planet and every living thing on it, is possible, ‘if only we’re brave enough to see it, if only we’re brave enough to be it’.”


Prof Andy Purvis, Department of Life Sciences, Natural History Museum, said:

“Sir Partha’s review is a brilliant integration of clear economic analysis and up-to-the-minute biodiversity science. And the core message is clear – we must not kill the goose that lays the golden egg.

“2020 couldn’t have made it any clearer – we simply have to change our relationship with nature. Because nature doesn’t feature in traditional economic thinking, the world’s economies have been running nature down – mining nature rather than managing it – to boost growth in GDP. Our relationship with nature has become increasingly abusive.

“2020 has also shown very clearly why biodiversity has to be considered in every big economic conversation. Human-caused biodiversity change makes new pandemics much more likely, because it favours the wild hosts of zoonotic diseases. The cost of the Covid-19 pandemic is estimated to be around $10 trillion globally – that’s one hell of a cost to pay for ignoring biodiversity.

“I think it’s still an open question quite how prosperous we can all be in a planet where we live sustainably – maybe we’ll have to emphasise fairness more, with the ultra-rich having to make do with a bit less. But it’s very clear that we have to live sustainably if future generations are going to have much of a life at all. We have to start to mend our broken planet.”


Prof Ian Bateman, Professor of Environmental Economics, University of Exeter:

“The Dasgupta Review is a fundamental rebuff to those who feel that there is a choice between sustaining biodiversity or economic growth. Economic growth cannot be sustained without the environment remaining intact – and it is biodiversity which maintains that intactness; allow biodiversity to fail and our economies will share their fate. The Dasgupta Review is the clearest statement to date of that connection and the massive economic and wellbeing implications of driving species to extinction – we are one of those species!”


Prof Nicola Beaumont, Head of Science: Sea and Society, at Plymouth Marine Laboratory, said:

“Most people would agree that biodiversity is important, but exactly why it is important, beyond an intangible sense, is not always clear. The result is that when tough trade-offs have to be made, for example between development and conserving biodiversity, the more obviously and immediately rewarding development option has tended to take priority.  The outcome of this is the dramatic decline in biodiversity which we have observed over recent decades. We have long been aware that biodiversity provides humans with a wealth of benefits, and when it is destroyed we lose these, with an impact on our health and wellbeing, and also an impact on the health and wellbeing of future generations. The Dasgupta Review will be key in lifting the importance of biodiversity onto a level playing field with other options, in making this intangible into something tangible. As such it is hoped that this work will ensure biodiversity is taken more seriously in future decision making and as such play a role in reversing its long-time decline.”


Prof Paula Harrison, Principal Natural Capital Scientist at the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology:

“Reversing the loss of biodiversity is critical for our long-term economic prosperity. Nature is essential for many goods and services, such as food and medicine production, mitigating climate change and improving air quality, plus significantly contributes to health and wellbeing, tourism and recreation. However, it is easy to overlook the myriad of benefits that nature provides because they are hard to quantify.

“The Dasgupta Review is the first high-level report commissioned by HM Treasury to show how the economy is underpinned by nature. It highlights how protecting and enhancing both biodiversity and economic prosperity can be achieved simultaneously by rebalancing our demand for nature’s goods and services with its capacity to supply them.”


Prof Yadvinder Malhi, Professor of Ecosystem Science, University of Oxford, said:

“This report is a welcome contribution by an eminent economist that emphasises how fundamentally we need to rethink our relationship with nature, how nature needs to be embedded in our policy and economic planning and how it is no longer possible to build economic prosperity off the back of a degrading natural world.”


Dr Alexander Lees, Senior Lecturer in conservation biology at Manchester Metropolitan University said

“The Dasgupta Review is a another wake-up call that our collective dependence on ‘natural assets’ is underpinned by healthy biodiverse ecosystems. Moreover, the report reminds policymakers that these assets are not – to borrow from economic parlance – ‘fungible’ – we cannot easily replace them nor live without them. The sooner we recognise this home truth then the quicker we can steer our course away from potentially disastrous ecosystem tipping points that could see the loss of ‘biodiversity services’ we now take for granted. The report echoes many of the sentiments of the IPBES Global Assessment, and it too is full of the language of ‘transformative change’ and, emphatically, ‘trade-offs’ which politicians and the global public need to embrace if we are to shape a safe operating space for humanity.”


Prof Tom Oliver, Professor of Applied Ecology at the University of Reading, said:

“It’s high time we challenged the assumption baked into our day-to-day business models that the natural world has no value. This is just one step towards a deeper reorientation, revealing not only our economic dependence upon nature, but also our interconnectedness with it as an essential part of our human identity. The report comes at a critical juncture during which the pace at which we are destroying the natural world is accelerating, at almost the same rate as our understanding of our manifold dependency upon it.”


Dr Jonathan Storkey, Plant Ecologist, Rothamsted Research and leader of the institute’s Achieving Sustainable Agricultural Systems research programme, said:

Rothamsted welcomes this review. Within the agricultural sector, it is being increasingly demonstrated that the biodiversity that shares our farmland is an intrinsic part of the system on which that economically sustainable farm businesses rely. A healthy ecosystem of soil organisms, pollinators and natural enemies of crop pests is predicted to be more resilient to climate change or outbreaks of pests and less reliant on external inputs of agrochemicals. Valuing nature for its contribution to profitable food production and finding ways of enhancing its contribution to UK farming, therefore, needs to be a priority for future agricultural research. Rothamsted Research is exploring ways to integrate this so-called ecological intensification with technological advances to improve the output, resilience and efficiency of UK farms.”


Prof Guy Poppy, Professor of Ecology, University of Southampton, said:

“Never before has it been so important to consider the economics of nature and the role biodiversity plays in supporting a healthy economy. Two of the major challenges currently facing humankind (Climate change and Covid), both illustrate the need to link economics with the environment and to rethink how we will become more prosperous and healthy in the future. As we build back better and greener, I welcome the framework in the Dagupta review and see it as an excellent example of delivering future wealth and planetary and human health.”


Dominic Jermey, Director General, ZSL, said:

“A Perfect Planet” tells it like it is. Give me David Attenborough any day as my source of news about what is happening in the world. Although I do pay more daily attention to the pandemic briefings from Number 10, I know, deep down, that what Attenborough is saying will have a far more profound impact on my future, and that of my kids and society, than the latest tragic twist in the COVID numbers. But something very different is emerging from the UK Government this week, something with an Attenborough-like clarity the natural world we stand to lose, but also with the recipe to avoid that loss: The Dasgupta Review on the Economics of Biodiversity.

“This 600-page review may lack the same visual punch of Sir David’s documentaries, but the message is similar. The result of an 18-month, independent global assessment on the economics of biodiversity led by world-renowned Professor Sir Partha Dasgupta, the Review sets out the evidence for how governments, indeed our whole economic system, has got the sums wrong. By failing to recognise nature’s economic and intrinsic worth, we rely on a misleading index of economic success, correspondingly mismanaging our global economic assets.

“The implications of Dasgupta’s core findings are massive. Back in 2018, not long after I took on ZSL’s leadership, I reviewed the bleak message from our scientists; ZSL’s Living Planet Index tracks a 68 percent decline in the size of the planet’s wildlife populations since 1970. Or simply put, the evidence shows biodiversity across our world has been slashed by two thirds within my lifetime. What I couldn’t understand was why critical discussions about economic growth, health and wealth were happening in one place, while conversations about this devastating biodiversity loss were happening “over there” on the fringes. At ZSL, I was being confronted daily with the impact of this assault on nature and the numbers scared me. One hundred million sharks killed every year, mostly for their fins. Twenty thousand African elephants slaughtered annually for their ivory. Over a thousand rhinos poached every year from South Africa alone since 2013. Although humans were happy to exploit the timber, to mine the cleared forests, to sell the delicacies, somehow, none of this industrial-scale harvesting of nature made anybody’s national accounts.

“This failure to join up thinking appalled me. The Living Planet Index (LPI) tracks trends in wildlife populations much the same way the retail price index tracks the cost of a basket of consumer goods. Imagine those consumer goods were disappearing until the basket was empty. That would not be tolerated, and yet we seemed prepared to accept this loss of biodiversity. In discussions with senior government officials, I took them through the strength of evidence provided by the LPI about biodiversity decline. While earlier reviews about the value of nature had been produced, I made the case strongly for the kind of step change in economic discussion around biodiversity which the Stern Review into the Economics of Climate Change had achieved more than a decade earlier. It was following these discussions that in Spring 2019 the UK Government commissioned the Dasgupta Review on the Economics of Biodiversity. That Review has now issued and I am immensely proud that ZSL’s LPI is key to the evidence it cites.

“Dasgupta’s message is clear. Transformative change is needed with no time to waste. Nature is not a free good. By failing to grasp its value, biodiversity has become collateral damage of the human drive for economic growth. The bitter irony should not be lost that this Review is resetting the debate amid a Coronavirus pandemic caused by this imbalance between people and nature.

“Like “A Perfect Planet”, however, this Review is not a story of hopelessness. Dasgupta points the way to a future where nature’s worth to society is understood and accounted for. This year is one of enormous opportunity for nature, where the UK can set an ambitious agenda. Hosting the G7 summit this summer and the 26th COP of the UN Convention on Climate Change in November, the UK can embrace Dasgupta’s Review as the catalyst for transforming global economic policy and practice. Biodiversity can be accounted for as critical because it increases nature’s productivity and enhances resilience to stresses and shocks. Pushing nature to a state of extreme fragility damages economic growth – as evidenced by the Covid-19 pandemic as much as by extreme weather events driven by climate change. We could instead shift the economic model to value natural capital and recognise that we need nature to thrive if we are to survive. This year, we can all bring an end to the crippling ‘impact inequality’ described in the Review. But Governments, business and societies must listen, learn, and transform, fast.”


Sir Adrian Smith, President of the Royal Society, said:

“The Dasgupta Review could not be more timely or more critical. At G7 and UN summits this year, world leaders, policy experts, and financial decision makers will be charting the global response to the linked threats of biodiversity loss and climate change and the green recovery from COVID-19.

 “Too often biodiversity has been the poor relation at these talks, because the costs of exploiting our ecosystems and species have been left off the ledger. But it is undeniable that the prosperity of present and future generations depends on these systems, which clean our water, pollinate our crops, and provide recreation and inspiration.

“By accounting for the true value of biodiversity, the Dasgupta Review sets out a radical vision for building a more sustainable future. Critically, this framework is rooted in the evidence of ecology and environmental science but speaks the language of national and financial institutions. Transforming these institutions, and their measurements of success, is vital to ensure that short-term economic growth is no longer decoupled from the long-term sustainability of the biosphere.

 “As the report makes clear, investing in conserving biodiversity is cheaper than restoring it once lost, and can simultaneously help us mitigate and adapt to the worst effects of climate change. It also opens up new economic opportunities and jobs. This is already being demonstrated around the world, and in particular in developing nations which are stewards for so much of Earth’s natural capital.”


Richard Deverell, Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew said:

“The premise of Professor Dasgupta’s review is at the heart of RBG Kew’s work and mission – all life on Earth, including humanity, depends on nature.  Kew’s experience in over 100 countries documenting, protecting and promoting the sustainable use of biodiversity supports his conclusion that our demands on nature are untenable. 

 “We welcome Professor Dasgupta’s considered review and the specific actions he proposes to recognise nature as an asset and reconsider our measures of economic prosperity. In this critical year, Kew will continue to offer advice, provide evidence and take action. If we are to change the trajectory for future generations, real commitment to transformative change, such as that proposed in this review, is essential.  This is an incredibly important report and a critical moment for humanity.  Planetary health is on a knife edge.” 



‘The Economics of Biodiversity: The Dasgupta Review’ was published by the Treasury at 00:01 UK time on Tuesday 2nd February.



Declared interests

Prof Andy Purvis: “I was involved in producing a report that is one of the references cited in the review (Vivid Economics & Natural History Museum 2021 The urgency of biodiversity action), and answered questions for Sir Partha’s team, but did not, for instance, write any of the review.”

Prof Paula Harrison: “No interests to declare.”

Prof Guy Poppy: “Prof Poppy is the former Chief Scientific Advisor for the Food Standards Agency and is Director of the UKRI programme ‘Transforming the UK food system for healthy people and a healthy environment’.”

None others received

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