- A report commissioned by the UK government looks at how humans can stop overusing the goods and services provided for free by the natural world.
- Those services range from crop pollination to regulating the Earth's climate and water, decomposing waste and fixing nitrogen in the soil to make it fertile.
- Measures supported by the Dasgupta Review include expanding protected areas, ocean taxes and boosting family planning in developing nations.
From taxing use of the oceans to pay for forest protection, to boosting family planning in developing nations, there are ways to catalyse shifts in behaviour and funding to rescue nature, the author of a flagship study on biodiversity said.
Partha Dasgupta, an economics professor at Britain's University of Cambridge, said measures were needed from international to individual level to put a value on fast-depleting ecosystems and the vital services they provide.
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Those services range from crop pollination to regulating the Earth's climate and water, decomposing waste and fixing nitrogen in the soil to make it fertile - all things humans "take for granted", Dasgupta noted.
"Even while we have enjoyed the fruits of economic growth, the demand we have made on nature's goods and services has for some decades exceeded her ability to supply them on a sustainable basis," he told a launch of his review on the economics of biodiversity, commissioned by Britain's finance ministry and supported by an advisory panel.
The difference between demand and sustainable supply has led to the "diminution of nature", Dasgupta said, warning "the gap has been increased, threatening our descendants' lives".
The world lacks institutions that can create effective incentives to "economise" on our overuse of nature's services and resources, he noted.
For example, the high seas are traversed by marine traffic and harvested for fish, yet no one is charged for their use.
The report said that to preserve the world's rainforests - such as South America's fast-disappearing Amazon - the global community should be prepared to pay the nations that host them, to give a financial incentive to protect them.
Exploitation of the oceans, meanwhile, should be subject to international control, such as a global tax on fisheries and shipping, it added.
That revenue could provide a share of the money needed for payments to keep vital rainforests standing, it said.
Dasgupta also called for an end to $4-6 trillion in annual government subsidies to industries from intensive agriculture to fossil fuel production that encourage more extraction of and harm to natural resources.
"In effect, we pay ourselves to eat into nature," he said.
Other measures supported by the Dasgupta Review include the expansion of protected areas - an idea backed by a growing number of countries that are seeking a new global agreement to extend them to cover at least 30% of land and sea by 2030.
Green group WWF on Tuesday called for world leaders to negotiate and adopt a global biodiversity pact in 2021 with clear science-based targets to reverse nature loss by 2030.
The group also said a new global commission on the economy and nature was needed.
"Climate- and nature-positive goals need to be at the centre of how decisions are made by policy makers and businesses," said WWF International director general Marco Lambertini, commenting on the study's findings.
Britain's Prince Charles, meanwhile, told the launch event the world was currently grappling with the "quadruple crises" of accelerating biodiversity loss, the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change impacts and overwhelming debt for some poor nations.
"These crises are inter-related and their solutions - to be effective - must be too," he said, adding that he hoped key U.N. summits on biodiversity and climate change this year would deliver "the breakthroughs we so desperately need".
How to cut demand
Dasgupta said excessive consumption of natural resources could be reduced in part by shrinking food and other waste in rich countries, and stepping up reproductive health and family planning services in poorer nations to curb birth rates.
Food is sold too cheaply in wealthy countries, while too little development aid is provided for family planning services in the world's poorest countries, leaving more than 200 million women who want access to birth control without it, he noted.
As well, because many of the processes shaping the natural world are complex and not always visible, it is hard to trace damage to things like soils back to those responsible, he said.
That makes enforcing "socially responsible conduct" difficult for any one institution - though better education from a young age could support such green aims, he said.
"We each have to serve as judge and jury for our own actions - and that cannot happen unless we develop an affection for nature and its processes," he concluded.