Governments could be at the start of a slow but huge transformation in how they treat natural life
One of the most important things about this week’s landmark review into the value of nature may appear to be a footling detail: its publisher. The 600-page report was commissioned by the Treasury, headed by Rishi Sunak, rather than the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, whose boss is George Eustice. The difference appears to be tiny – the two ministries are a mere 10-minute walk apart – but it represents a huge paradigm shift. For this is the first time any country’s finance ministry has put out a comprehensive study into the economic importance of maintaining a variety of life on Earth. Its author is Professor Sir Partha Dasgupta, a Cambridge economist. His argument is both needed and subversive: our economic models and our models for how to run an economy both require urgent overhaul if humanity is to survive and prosper.
For so long, government ministers have treated biodiversity as way down the to-do list, beneath winning the next election and ensuring asset markets and public services are not in meltdown. Plurality and integrity of natural life, of everything from parasites to parakeets, is no more objectionable to a politician than the latest Attenborough documentary. But doing much about it has never seemed a high enough priority.