Dasgupta's Review is a plea to bring changes in the way we think, act and measure economic success to enhance human prosperity by protecting the natural world. The Dasgupta framework sets out how we should regard nature in economic decision-making processes
Sir Partha Dasgupta, the Frank Ramsey Emeritus Professor of Economics at Cambridge University, launched an independent review entitled 'The Economics of Biodiversity: The Dasgupta Review' in 2021, which highlights that at the heart of economics there must be nature's value. This article provides the crux of the review and its implications for the Hindu Kush Himalaya (HKH) region and the beyond.
The long-awaited 610- page comprehensive review primarily foregrounds nature as "our most precious asset", arguing that humanity as a whole is embedded in nature. It further highlights that humanity has jointly mismanaged nature's "global portfolio" and our demands far exceed nature's capacity to supply "goods and services", putting a dire threat to our decedents.
Dasgupta's Review is a plea to bring changes in the way we think, act and measure economic success to enhance human prosperity by protecting the natural world. With deeper acknowledgment of ecosystem processes and understanding how they are affected by ignorant human economic activity, the Dasgupta framework sets out how we should regard nature in economic decision-making processes.
The review brings a paradigm shift in the current mainstream economic thought, which does not include nature in the accounting system, taking nature's services to economies such as clean air, water, climate, biodiversity and complex ecosystems for granted. In other words, the current mainstream economic model only accounts for produced capital, human capital and technology or other publicly available knowledge in a certain time period in the GDP of a country, neglecting the ecological and other externalities like air pollution, water pollution, soil degradation, deforestation and loss of biodiversity.
This model does not embrace the role of nature in human economic activities, underestimates the risks from environmental damage to growth and human welfare, and exaggerates human capabilities.
Hence, Dasgupta proposes a new economic model considering nature as an indispensable element.
It incorporates the "stock of natural capital and flow of extracted provisioning services" in the national accounting system.
He views that such a model helps to account for nature's contributions to economic growth and human welfare. At this point, Dasgupta writes, "My overarching aim is the reconstruction of economics to include nature as an ingredient".
The review argues that human affluence has caused a "devastating" ecological tool during the recent decades, highlighting the need for 1.6 Earths to maintain our current business as usual.
Underlining the demand-supply imbalance of natural goods and services, Dasgupta opines, "Truly sustainable economic growth and development means recognising that our long-term prosperity relies on rebalancing our demand for nature's goods and services with its capacity to supply them."
Addressing the COVID- 19 pandemic, the review cautions that it may be "just a tip of the iceberg" if we do not take the loss of natural habitats seriously.
Dasgupta writes, "It also means accounting fully for the impact of our interactions with nature across all levels of society.
COVID-19 has shown us what can happen when we don't do this."
The review suggests a transformation of our institutions and systems, particularly finance and education, for the sustainability of nature. Increasing public and private financial flows that enhance our natural assets and decrease those that degrade them, empowering citizens to make informed choices and demand changes, and embedding activities about nature in the entire education system are the main takeaways of the review.
The review concludes "If we care about our common future and the common future of our descendants, we should all in part be naturalists."
More than 240 million people in the HKH region are reliant on the goods and services provided by nature in one way or the other. Around 70 percent of the people in the region directly depend on natural goods and services, such as food, fuel and medicines for their livelihoods.
A large number of people (nearly 1.65 billion) living in the river basins downstream take advantage from resources like water, food and energy.
As opined by Dasgupta, climate change, unwise resource exploitation, pollution, land-use change and increase in invasive alien species have posed a threat to this global asset of biodiversity, and the HKH region is no exception to this.
In the midst of complex challenges brought by the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change and global biodiversity loss scenario, nature-based solutions have to be urgently sought out.
At this point, Dasgupta notes, "It is only a matter of time before economics makes room for nature. The sooner the better".
As suggested by him, undeniably, our economy should consider nature as these three facts: i) if nature/biodiversity depreciates continuously at the present scale, the result brought by this can be irreversible, or in the best case scenario, it may take a long time for recovery; ii) replacement of the depleted ecosystem by a new one is possible if decisions are made wisely and timely; and iii) the ecosystem is prone to collapse abruptly at any time and without any warning.
When nature's value holds a huge share in the national accounting system (GDP), as suggested by Dasgupta, then people at large will come to realise the contribution of nature on the planet.
This, in turn, will force governments and stakeholders to take this issue seriously and play a proactive role in protecting and understanding the complex nature of ecosystems.
In addition, expansion and improvement of protected areas, increased investment in nature-based solutions, deployment of policies that discourage damaging forms of production and consumption, and a mix of taxes, subsidies, regulations and bans by governments are the urgent actions to be taken to make this earth a better place to live in.
A version of this article appears in the print on August 5, 2021 of The Himalayan Times.