A famous economist strives to calculate the value of nature

Economic forecasts consist of factory investment, employment rates, [gross domestic product] growth. They never mention what happens to ecosystems, said Dasgupta, this year’s United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) Earth Champion for Science and Innovation. “It’s really urgent that we think about it now,” he said.

The report was the culmination of four decades of work in which Dasgupta sought to push the boundaries of traditional economics and uncover the link between the health of the planet and the stability of economies.

The The economics of biodiversity They are the basis of a growing field of what is known as natural capital accounting, in which researchers attempt to assess the value of nature. These numbers can help governments better understand the long-term economic costs of logging, mining and other potentially destructive industries, ultimately strengthening the case for protecting the natural world.

“Sir Partha Dasgupta’s pioneering contributions to economics over the decades have awakened the world to the value of nature and the need to protect the ecosystems that enrich our economies, our well-being and our lives,” said Inger Andersen, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme.

Economy as part of a “texture”

Dasgupta was born in 1942 in what is now Dhaka, the Bangladeshi capital. (At that time, the city was part of India). His father, the famous economist Amiya Kumar Dasgupta, had a great influence on him and his path towards academia. After completing his bachelor’s degree in physics in Delhi, Dasgupta moved to the United Kingdom where he studied mathematics and later obtained a PhD in economics.

Through his many major contributions to economics, for which he was knighted in 2002, Dasgupta has helped shape the global debate on sustainable development and the use of natural resources.

“Nature is a wonderful factory, producing a bewildering array of goods and services at different speeds and with different spatial coverage. Think, for example, of all the beautiful processes that make up wetlands—the birds and insects that pollinate, the water mice that burrow around for food, the way they decompose Microorganisms filter material and water,” Dasgupta said.

It’s a bewildering tapestry of things that happen, many of which go unnoticed. Yet they create the atmosphere in which humans and all living things can live. The way we measure economic success or failure, the whole bases of economics, must be built with this tapestry in mind.”

Affection by nature

Dasgupta traces his interest in the idea of ​​living sustainably in a world of limited natural resources to his classic 1969 paper. On the concept of optimal population. In the 1970s, Swedish economist Carl-Goran Mahler encouraged him to develop his ideas on the links between rural poverty and the state of the environment and natural resources in the world’s poorest countries, a topic that was notably absent from mainstream development economics at the time. .

This has led to further explorations of the relationships between population, natural resources, poverty and the environment, which have been well received by Dasgupta.

“I have a ball running on the field,” he said. “One of the reasons it was interesting is because I didn’t have any competition. No one else was working on it.”

A man standing in a library
For four decades, Dasgupta has sought to push the boundaries of traditional economics and uncover the relationship between the health of the planet and the stability of economies. Photo: UNEP/Diego Rotmistrovski

Grasslands, forests, and freshwater lakes are some of the favorite ecosystems in Dasgupta. He believed that children should be taught nature studies from an early age and that the subject should be compulsory like reading, writing and arithmetic. “That’s one way to generate some affection for nature. If you have affection for nature, you’re less likely to get trashed.”

overall wealth

Dasgupta is excited about the need to replace GDP as a measure of countries’ economic health because it only tells part of the story. He advocates instead for “inclusive wealth”, which captures not only financial and productive capital but also the skills found in the workforce (human capital), cohesion in society (social capital) and the value of the environment (natural capital).

This idea is included in the UN-supported System of Environmental Economic Accounting that allows countries to track environmental assets, their use in the economy, and the return of waste streams and emissions.

The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) developed the Inclusive Wealth Index. The index, now calculated for about 163 countries, indicates that overall wealth expanded at a rate of 1.8 percent from 1992-2019, well below the rate of gross domestic product, largely due to the decline in natural capital.

Nature as a capital asset

Echoing the urgency of the United Nations Decade of Ecosystem Restoration to prevent, halt and reverse ecosystem degradation, Dasgupta The economics of biodiversity It warns that important ecosystems, from coral reefs to rainforests, are approaching dangerous tipping points, with dire consequences for economies and people’s well-being.

The 600-page report calls for a fundamental rethink of humanity’s relationship to nature and how it is valued, arguing that the failure to include “ecosystem services” in national balance sheets has only intensified exploitation of the natural world.

“[It is] about bringing nature as a capitalist asset into economic thinking and showing how economic possibilities depend entirely on this finite entity,” said Dasgupta.

About the United Nations Environment Programme’s Champions of the Earth programme

UNEP’s Champions of the Earth program honors individuals, groups and organizations whose actions have a transformative impact on the environment. The annual Champions of the Earth award is the United Nations’ highest environmental honor. It honors outstanding leaders from government, civil society, and the private sector

About the United Nations Decade of Ecosystem Restoration

The United Nations General Assembly has declared the years 2021 to 2030 the United Nations Decade of Ecosystem Restoration. Led by the United Nations Environment Program and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations along with the support of partners, it is designed to prevent, halt and reverse the loss and degradation of ecosystems around the world. It aims to revive billions of hectares, covering terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. A global call to action, the UN Decade brings together political support, scientific research and financial muscle to scale up restoration at scale.

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