The distinguished Cambridge economist, Professor Sir Partha Dasgupta, 76, has been asked by the British chancellor of the exchequer, Philip Hammond, to “launch a comprehensive global review of the link between biodiversity and economic growth”.
“My team at the treasury has been assembled, and we have started work on it,” Dasgupta told The Telegraph.
His job will be “to assess the economic value of biodiversity and to identify actions that will simultaneously enhance biodiversity and deliver economic prosperity”.
A note from Her Majesty’s Treasury said Dasgupta’s review “will report in 2020, ahead of the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biodiversity in Beijing in October that year”.
His task will be to quantify how vanishing plant and animal life adversely affects the economy. Although his is a global review, it does seem his findings will have particular relevance for a country like India.
Dasgupta, who was born in Dhaka and moved to India, is the Frank Ramsey Professor Emeritus of Economics at Cambridge and a Fellow of St John’s College. His wife, Carol, is the daughter of James Meade, who won the Nobel Prize for economics in 1977.
His father, Amiya Kumar Dasgupta, has been described as “one of the founding fathers of modern economics in India”. His students included Samar Ranjan Sen, Ashok Mitra and Amartya Sen, who once paid tribute to his “great teacher who could make the subject come alive with imagination, wit, lucidity, and a quality that I can only describe as astute compassion”.
Hammond told the Commons that Britain was “taking action today on our pledge to be the first in history to leave our environment in a better condition than we found it”.
“For the first time in 60 million years, the number of species worldwide is in sustained mass decline,” he pointed out.
He added: “The UK’s 1,500 species of pollinators deliver an estimated £680 million annual value to our economy — so there is an economic, as well as an environmental, case for protecting the diversity of the natural world. But this is a global problem.”
Cambridge University Press is just about to publish Biological Extinction: New Perspectives, edited by Dasgupta, and two others — Peter Raven, from the Missouri Botanical Garden, and Anna McIvor, who is based in the department of geography at Cambridge.
“The rapidly increasing human pressure on the biosphere is pushing biodiversity into the sixth mass extinction event in the history of life on earth,” says a summary of the book.
“The organisms being exterminated are integral working parts of our planet’s life support system, and their loss is permanent. Like climate change, this irreversible loss has potentially devastating consequences for humanity.
“As we come to recognise the many ways in which we depend on nature, this can pave the way for a new ethic that acknowledges the importance of co-existence between humans and other species.”
Commenting on the book, Simon A. Levin, the James S McDonnell Distinguished University Professor in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Princeton University, said Dasgupta was “unexcelled among economists for his contributions to ecological economics”.