This post is by Beccy Speight, CEO, and Paul Morling, principal economist of the RSPB.
Silent Spring triggered a new era of awareness of the harm we can do to nature when it was published in 1962. Its author, Rachel Carson, said, “The road we have long been traveling is deceptively easy, a smooth superhighway on which we progress with great speed, but at its end lies disaster. The other fork of the road the one ‘less travelled by’ offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of our earth.”
Nearly 60 years later, the ground breaking, Treasury commissioned, Dasgupta Review into the economics of global biodiversity explains that broad-based sustainable growth, now and into the future, depends on urgent action across all levels of society to protect and restore nature.
The review confirms that the climate and ecological crises are critical global, regional and national economic challenges of our day. Failure to act now means we will continue to undermine the foundations of our own prosperity, impoverishing ourselves and the species we share the planet with, and making other global imperatives, such as poverty alleviation, far harder to solve.
Landing at the start of this critical year for biodiversity is opportune. The review must become the foundation for a new strategic nature positive mission: a Marshall Plan for climate and nature. Action now requires a laser like focus on policy making to deliver real change over the next five to ten years. We believe the UK government and devolved administrations are well placed to drive this change, both through global leadership at the G7 in June, the Kunming biodiversity summit and the Glasgow climate summit, and through their own domestic agendas, capitalising on the current opportunity to ‘build back better’ which must include restoring and enhancing the ecological foundations of our wealth and wellbeing.
The question now is how we move from the review’s excellent conceptual framework towards policy changes which will lead to society wide nature positive transformation.
From the RSPB’s perspective, we believe there is a golden thread that runs from establishing a new nature positive mission, through to concerted efforts to measure and properly account for our impacts on nature, recalibrating our economic tools, through to adopting the right policies to achieve economy wide outcomes. This requires four immediate actions by the government:
This is a critical year to make a step change. The government must champion the adoption of a strong framework of global targets for nature and biodiversity under the Convention on Biological Diversity, including at the G7. These must be cascaded down to national, legally binding targets, aimed at halting and beginning to reverse declines in nature by 2030. We can help to secure this change in England with an amendment to the Environment Bill to include a ‘state of nature’ target, and the sector is campaigning right now to achieve that shift
The government should commit to a minimum £1 billion annual investment package in the next spending review, to help to meet domestic goals for nature’s recovery and champion nature-aligned public spending, including in overseas development aid budgets.
3. Private sector incentives
The government should champion and continue to fund the work of the Taskforce for Nature-related Financial Disclosures, scale up incentives for private sector investment in ecosystem restoration and ensure its own procurement policies are nature positive.
4. Recalibrating what ‘progress’ means
Broader measures of progress beyond GDP are needed and the Treasury’s Green Book guidance on accounting for environmental impacts should be fully implemented.
The UK Treasury had the wisdom and foresight to commission the Dasgupta Review and has the most critical role in making this transformation a reality. What would a Dasgupta-literate Treasury now do? We believe the Treasury should begin a programme of work to align its own decision making tools and measurements with the Leaders’ Pledge for Nature. It should use the UK’s leadership of the G7 this year, and its engagement with G20 finance ministers, to champion pro-nature and biodiversity reforms to trade policy, agricultural support and overseas development aid. The UK should also actively seek to engage other governments and international financial institutions in conversations around just, net zero carbon, nature positive and resilient recovery strategies that protect people, create jobs, and enable development through investment in nature.
Above all, the Treasury should weave the profound insights of its review into its own culture and seek to share them with others. These are that sustainable economic growth is bounded by the needs of nature and the interdependence of nature and people. This is a unique moment for Treasury to take a lead. Together with our colleagues across the environmental sector, we look forward to supporting it as a new and powerful voice for nature.
It took 60 years to reach a comprehensive economic articulation of what Rachel Carson explained so starkly in Silent Spring. The only road that makes any sense, for ourselves and for the species we share the planet with, is the one ‘less travelled’; we can’t wait any longer to heed her advice.
A full set of recommendations, responding to the Dasgupta Review, can be found in Transitioning to a nature positive economy by 2030, developed together with the Green Alliance, Vivid Economics and Wildlife Countryside Link.