Understanding the Price: the Push for Economic Biodiversity

                                                                                                                                             (photography credit theguardian.com)

The question of putting a price tag on planet earth has been a topic of discussion over the last few years, as we grapple with how to address the global impacts of climate change. On a planet where distribution of environmentally beneficial resources (like the Amazon rainforest) is vastly different among countries, how do we ensure that these resources are protected for total planetary health?  A new review commissioned by the UK Treasury is providing deeper insight into framing the economics behind ecosystem biodiversity and what the loss of biodiversity costs the planet, in a framework that perhaps governments are more apt to respond to. 

Biodiversity is declining faster than ever before. Climate change poses a serious threat to organisms, ecosystems and livelihoods around the world. Our transactional relationship with the environment has resulted in the rapid depletion of natural resources, animal extinctions, forest destruction, increased natural disasters and pandemics. Despite the bleakness of the situation, we can still save the natural world, and ourselves. In order to do so, we must make “radical global changes to production, consumption, finance and education” (The Guardian 2021).

Prof Sir Partha Dasgupta, the Cambridge University economist that conducted the UK review, is now urging “the world’s governments to come up with a different form of national accounting from GDP and use one that incorporates the depletion of natural resources”. The review is the first of its kind to be authorized by a national finance ministry. In addition to providing a full assessment of the economic importance of nature, Dasgupta also encourages us to take accountability for our interactions with nature, using Covid-19 as an example of the consequences of our behavior.

“Our economies, livelihoods and wellbeing all depend on our most precious asset: nature. We are part of nature, not separate from it.” – Prof Sir Partha Dasgupta

The 600-page review argues that “human societies could live sustainably by ensuring the demands they put on nature do not exceed its supply,” and offers several ways to make this a reality, such as addressing the growing population, reforming the measurement of economic success and paying nations to protect vital ecosystems, like the Amazon Rainforest. Lastly, Prof Dasgupta highlights the importance of gaining an appreciation for nature and instilling it into our education systems so that future generations can learn to value the environment. The review is an important step in putting forward an economic framework to protect our globally beneficial resources or “public goods.”.

Protecting and restoring nature is at the heart of SOIL’s work. We, too, often find ourselves at this interesting nexus of quantifying the impacts of our sanitation solution in terms of environmental, health and social impacts.  It is clear that the absence of reliable sanitation services has significant impact on public health, quality of life, natural ecosystems, and the environment. SOIL’s sanitation intervention in Haiti provides a myriad of positive externalities including preserving water and energy resources, releasing less greenhouse gas emissions, and sequestering carbon. Furthermore, our organic compost, Kònpos Lakay, produced from safely treated human waste, supports critically needed biodiversity efforts in Haiti, a country that is particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Yet, there is still much work to be done to truly quantify the impacts of building more climate resilient systems and investing in solutions that promote biodiversity and planetary health, so that we all: governments, individuals, investors alike, have a better way of understanding the holistic economic benefits. Together, and with the right framework, we can create a greener and more resilient future in Haiti and around the world.  


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