The recently launched Dasgupta Review on the Economics of Biodiversity is a landmark report detailing the financial implications of the degradation of our biodiversity all over the world, due almost entirely to our pursuit for economic growth, with no regard for its impact on the health of our natural ecosystems.
The review highlights the central role that biodiversity plays, not only in providing ecosystem services – the benefits provided to humans by healthy natural environments, which have been valued globally at approximately $125 trillion p.a. (significantly higher than current global Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of roughly $80 trillion) – but also as a key part of the climate change solution.
It’s now estimated that almost half of our land surface area is farmed – in the words of Vandana Shiva, our farms are now the ‘lungs of our planet’. The question is, therefore, how can these farms become part of the solution in rebuilding our lost biodiversity, mitigating against the acceleration of climate change and creating healthy, equitable and safe livelihoods for communities of a global scale?
The SFT believes the solution lies in a combination of the genuine application of ‘true cost accounting’, ensuring those who pollute or cause damage to public health are held financially accountable and rewarding those who serve to regenerate biodiversity, soil health and produce healthy and nutritious food. This would shift the balance of financial advantage away from extractive and exploitative models towards production systems which are regenerative and circular in nature.
However, before such measures can even begin to be introduced, as the Dasgupta Review begins to allude to in Chapter 13, an internationally common approach to measuring impact is needed. We believe an internationally harmonised framework for measuring whole farm sustainability could be a game changer in speeding up the much needed transition to more sustainable food and farming systems, giving power to farmers, consumers, governments and businesses to make the right choices.
If it is to be successful, this common framework must start on the ground, empowering farmers to become stewards of their land by aiding understanding and providing a common language for farm-level sustainability. It should take an inclusive approach, allowing all farmers to make incremental steps towards becoming more resilient, sustainable and regenerative, ultimately making a significant contribution to a climate change solution.
If we get this right, the framework could also be used by governments to design future public support schemes, and by food companies to improve supply chain transparency, by the finance community as a basis for sustainable investment and by consumers to better understand the relative sustainability of the food products they purchase.
The SFT is working to develop this framework, and support for the initiative is building rapidly. Next month, we will be announcing the formation of a new working group to take this project forward, which includes representation from farming, government, retail and food businesses, and the research, NGO and finance communities.
Ultimately, the Dasgupta Review serves to remind us of the importance of taking a holistic view on the challenges we are now facing. Thinking about climate change, carbon and greenhouse gases tends to take centre stage in discussions – and this is, of course, for good reason – but it’s important to remember that biodiversity, resource use, pollution, soil health, animal welfare and human wellbeing form equally important parts of this puzzle and must therefore sit front and centre when it comes to business and public policy decision making.
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