Pavan Sukhdev Gives Annual Darwin Initiative Lecture

Pavan Sukhdev, leader of the TEEB review (The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity), yesterday delivered the 9th annual Darwin Initiative Lecture in London.

The central theme of Mr Sukhdev’s presentation was the need for a ‘new economics’ to take into account measures of human progress traditionally excluded from nations’ GDP figures. He gave the example of India, with newspaper headlines currently proclaiming 9% GDP growth, despite the global economic downturn. Mr Sukhdev challenged this figure: did this equate to a 9% increase in the quality of healthcare delivered for the population, for example? A quote from a leading economist, taken in 1968, stressed that “GDP is unfit for purpose”; Mr Sukhdev argued that nothing had changed in this respect.

The example of Yasuni National Park, Ecuador, ilustrated the possibilities offered by removing ‘public goods’ from the public domain and so avoiding the so-called ‘Tragedy of the Commons’. Ecuador has pledged not to exploit the 20% of its proven oil field found within the national park, calculating a £1.6 billion opportunity cost for not doing so, and pricing the carbon it will have ‘locked in’ the oil field at £1.7 billion, based on the market rate for carbon. Ecuador is currently seeking investors under this REDD (Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) initiative. The investment will allow the country to spend on renewable technologies, shifting away from oil dependence, and be channelled into communities for an improvement in the population’s quality of life.

Breakout groups followed the lecture, considering the next stages of the TEEB review. It was clear from discussion that, in order to mainstream valuation of ecosystem services and ‘natural capital’ into decision making, the results of the review must be considered not just by countries’ environment ministries but by their treasuries, and by the World Bank. Over the next few months the TEEB team will be seeking input into their review, in the form of evidence, and further suggestions for influencing policy-makers.

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