In the Spring Statement, the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer announced:
"later this year, the UK government will launch a comprehensive global review of the link between biodiversity and economic growth to be led by Professor Sir Partha Dasgupta, Emeritus Professor of Economics at Cambridge."
Prof. Dasgupta is the Chair of the Management Board of the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk. The aim of the global review into the Economics of Biodiversity is to “explore ways to enhance the natural environment and deliver prosperity”. It is very welcome that the UK has taken a lead on the vital, yet neglected, global problem of biodiversity loss.
We are currently in the middle of a global biodiversity loss crisis. For the first time in 60 million years, the number of species worldwide is in sustained mass decline. This has been described as the ‘Sixth Mass Extinction’ in Earth’s history.
This crisis is firstly a disaster for nature. Losing a species is an irreversible loss, like burning a priceless work of art. Biodiversity loss also risks triggering wider catastrophic ecosystem shifts. Ecosystems are resilient, but can be pushed beyond tipping points: consider the famous case of the difference the loss and reintroduction of wolves made to Yellowstone Park.
Secondly it is an economic disaster: as the Chancellor pointed out, the UK’s 1,500 species of pollinators deliver an estimated £680 million annual value to the UK economy – so there is an economic as well as environmental case for protecting the diversity of the natural world.
Thirdly, from the view of a research centre focussed on the risk of human extinction or civilizational collapse, biodiversity loss risks human catastrophe. Humanity relies on ecosystems to provide ecosystem services, such as food, water, and energy. Sudden catastrophic ecosystem shifts could pose equally catastrophic consequences to human societies. Indeed environmental changes are associated with many historical cases of societal ‘collapses’; though the likelihood of occurrence of such events and the extent of their socioeconomic consequences remains uncertain.
Prof. Dasgupta, and the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk (CSER) more broadly, have been working on biodiversity loss for some years.
Prof. Dasgupta co-organised a series of influential workshops with the Vatican. A 2015 workshop contributed to the Papal Encyclical on Climate Change, released in advance of the Paris Agreement on climate change. A 2017 workshop addressed the biodiversity loss crisis
Later this year Prof. Dasgupta will publish two books related to his work:
- Biological Extinctions: New Perspectives (Cambridge University Press).
- Time and the Generations: population ethics for a diminishing planet (Columbia University Press).
CSER researchers have published influential papers on biodiversity loss and governance (in Nature), invasive species governance, and the environmental impact of high-yield farming. CSER scholars have also discussed biodiversity loss in widely-read articles and on BBC radio and television, including Newsnight. We work closely with the Cambridge Conservation Initiative, Cambridge’s leading hub of academic groups and non-governmental organisations working to safeguard global biodiversity.
Ten‐year assessment of the 100 priority questions for global biodiversity conservation
Publication by Tommaso Jucker, Bonnie Wintle, Gorm Shackelford, Pierre Bocquillon, Jan Laurens Geffert, Tim Kasoar, Eszter Kovacs, Hannah S. Mumby, Chloé Orland, Judith Schleicher, Eleanor R. Tew, Aiora Zabala, Tatsuya Amano, Martina Kunz, Alexandra Bell, Boris Bongalov, Josephine M. Chambers, Colleen Corrigan, América P. Durán, Leslie‐Anne Duvic‐Paoli, Caroline Emilson, Erik J.S. Emilson, Jéssica Fonseca da Silva, Emma E. Garnett, Elizabeth J. Green, Miriam K. Guth, Andrew Hacket‐Pain, Amy Hinsley, Javier Igea, Martina Kunz, Sarah H. Luke, William Lynam, Philip A. Martin, Matheus H. Nunes, Nancy Ockendon, Aly Pavitt, Charlotte L.R. Payne, Victoria Plutshack, Tim T. Rademacher, Rebecca J. Robertson, David C. Rose, Anca Serban, Benno I. Simmons, Catherine Tayleur, Claire F.R. Wordley, Nibedita Mukherjee
Successful conservation of global waterbird populations depends on effective governance