Nature at risk of breakdown if Cop15 pledges not met, world leaders warned

Nature at risk of breakdown if Cop15 pledges not met, world leaders warned

Author of landmark UK review into the economic value of nature joins UN environment chief in calls for ‘action, not just words’ on biodiversity goals

Humans are exploiting nature beyond its limits, the University of Cambridge economist Prof Sir Partha Dasgupta has warned, as the UN’s environment chief calls on governments to make good on a global deal for biodiversity, six months after it was agreed.

Dasgupta, the author of a landmark review into the economic importance of nature commissioned by the UK Treasury in 2021, said it was a mistake to continue basing economic policies on the postwar boom that did not account for damage to the planet.

Speaking to the Guardian six months after Cop15, where countries agreed this decade’s targets to protect nature, Dasgupta cautioned that a headline goal to protect 30% of land and sea should not lead to the destruction of the remaining 70%. He reiterated a recommendation from his 2021 report that companies must disclose the parts of their supply chain that rely on nature, so governments can take action on halting biodiversity loss.

Since the Kunming-Montreal global biodiversity framework was agreed in December 2022, there has been a deal to protect the high seas and first steps towards a legally binding UN treaty to regulate plastic waste. The first few months of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s presidency in Brazil has seen reductions in deforestation in the Amazon, although nature has become a culture wars issue in the EU, with proposals on restoration and pesticide reduction facing fierce opposition.

An informal update on progress towards reaching the 23 targets and four goals included in the Montreal agreement is expected to be made at Cop28 in Dubai amid continuing scientific warnings about the health of the planet.

“It is a truism: if the demand for nature’s products and services continues to exceed its ability to supply, then there is going to be a breakdown,” said Dasgupta. “It is a finite resource. We know when fisheries are depleted by continuous overfishing, it leads to the destruction of a fishery. Now try to imagine that at the scale of the biosphere.

“This excess demand [for nature] is only about 50 years old. There’s been a great acceleration in that demand since the second world war. This experience is guiding policy and it’s a real mistake because it has come at a big expense to natural capital. The decline has not been recorded in statistics. It doesn’t show up in national accounts,” he added.

“As an economist, I like to look at small societies as a prototype of the world economy. Studying poorer village economies tells you a lot: they are deeply dependent on natural capital. Many such societies have fallen under. We’ve seen this in Sudan with rainless areas, skinny cattle and people migrating miles and miles. It is not as if we don’t know what happens when nature breaks down.”

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Photo:, Mladen Antonov/AFP/Getty Images

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