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How do we restructure economies to account for the value of the natural world?

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A major report on the economics of biodiversity urges governments to look beyond traditional economic measures of goods and services produced in order to address the “massive deterioration” of the natural world over the last 70 years.

The Dasgupta Review, commissioned by the UK Treasury and likened to the influential 2006 Stern review on climate change, paints a dire picture of biodiversity loss. The report also warns that our destruction of nature in turn threatens economies, by negatively affecting services such as clean water and medicines.

However, Partha Dasgupta at the University of Cambridge says the situation can be turned around by adopting new metrics of success other than gross domestic product, such as China’s use of the gross ecosystem product, which accounts for the value of natural ecosystems as well as artifical natural resources, such as farmland or urban green land.

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Food production must be “fundamentally restructured” to reduce our impact on nature, says Dasgupta, not just with technology – for example, the use of genetically modified crops to improve yields – but by changing behaviour, such as wasting less food. He highlights the benefits of shifting diets away from meat, but stops shy of advocating for people to eat less meat.

The third key recommendation is to change institutions he says have failed to address the problem: Dasgupta singles out education and finance. He suggests “there is every reason” universities should require new students to take a basic ecology course, much like US universities once made students take a course on the history of western civilisation.

Dasgupta’s study comes 11 years after a landmark study on the economics of biodiversity called for urgent action. In the decade since, governments around the world failed to meet any of the 20 targets they set to arrest biodiversity loss.

The review launched with backing from prime minister Boris Johnson, the Prince of Wales and naturalist David Attenborough, who called it “immensely important.” It is not binding on the UK government, which said in a statement it would respond to the findings in “due course”.

In a statement, Jennifer Morris at the Nature Conservancy in the US said the report will likely prove a “watershed moment for how we come to value the contributions made by nature across nearly every aspect of our lives.”

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