Can economics really save wild nature?

17 February 2010 | News story

Global policy makers and business leaders should urgently address the growing biodiversity crisis, according to Pavan Sukhdev, a Special Adviser to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Green Economy Initiative.  Speaking at the annual Earthwatch Oxford lecture on 10 February, Pavan outlined the role business can play in redefining economics for the 21st century around a new sustainable model, which fundamentally values and protects the natural world.

Entitled Can economics really save wild nature? the event was co-hosted by Earthwatch and strategy consultancy/think tank SustainAbility.  Around 300 people attended the event, including senior business leaders, opinion formers, and representatives from the science and NGO communities.  Earthwatch is an International NGO Member of IUCN.

Pavan Sukhdev is Study Leader for The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) study, hosted by UNEP with financial support from the European Commission, Germany, the UK, Norway, the Netherlands and Sweden. The study is making a compelling economics case for the conservation of ecosystems and biodiversity.  Mr Sukhdev provided a number of striking case studies to illustrate that it pays to protect nature and to manage ecosystems more efficiently.  When asked what needs to change Mr Sukhdev stressed that: “Government relations with the private sector need to change; national accounts need to be measured more holistically and; companies need to account for externalities”.

After the presentation by Pavan Sukhdev, a panel discussion was facilitated by Dr Elaine Doward-King, Global Head of Health, Safety and Environment of Rio Tinto.  In her first reaction to the lecture, she stressed that biodiversity is becoming a key issue for some multinationals, as they realize that natural resources are no longer free resources without a value. 

Dr Hans Friederich, IUCN Pan-European Director (a.i.) used the visit to Oxford to have discussions with Earthwatch Director Nigel Winser about increased collaboration between Earthwatch and IUCN.  A number of opportunities were identified, especially in South East Europe.  He also commented on Sukhdev’s lecture and reflected on the progress that is made, especially in the business sector.  He said: “The interest of the private sector in nature and natural resources is clear from the fact that at least six sessions at the recent World Economic Forum in Davos focused on biodiversity.”