70 years of helping people to care for our ocean

Zoos and Aquariums and the Dasgupta Review

By: Dr Judy Mann-Lang

There is no longer a choice – we must protect nature for our future. This is the stark message of the Dasgupta Review on the Economics of Biodiversity (www.gov.uk/government/publications/final-report-the-economics-of-biodiversity-the-dasgupta-review ) . What makes this review different to those undertaken previously is that it was commissioned by the UK Treasury and was led by an eminent University of Cambridge economist, Professor Sir Partha Dasgupta. Released in early February, the 600-page review is the result of 18-months of work and is the first independent global assessment on the economics of biodiversity. We are familiar with reading reviews of the state of biodiversity undertaken by natural scientists such as the Living Planet Report 2020 | Official Site | WWF (panda.org) produced by WWF and the Zoological Society of London Living Planet Index | Zoological Society of London (ZSL). These biodiversity-based reviews are calls to care for nature, from the perspective of the impact that humanity has on nature. The Dasgupta review looks at the imperatives for caring for nature, through the lens of economics. It shows that the gold standard for measuring economic success, Gross Domestic Product (GDP), in fact our whole economic system, is fundamentally flawed.  We have completely disregarded the value of nature. By treating nature and natural assets as ‘free’ we have skewed our accounting systems and, as a result, we have grossly mismanaged our natural assets. 

The report clearly states that we must change the way we account for all the goods and services we produce by including the value of natural assets. It points out that the costs of protecting the biodiversity we have left is far cheaper than trying to restore biodiversity that has already been destroyed. Investing in biodiversity conservation can also help us to mitigate and adapt to climate change. Like the recommendations of the 2020 Living Planet Report, this review specifically addresses the importance of protected areas in achieving this goal.

The bad news is that this change will require nothing short of a new measure of economic value, a new appreciation for the value of nature and natural assets. It means that everything will become more expensive and that many richer nations will have to do with less, so that poorer nations may simply survive. The good news is that this new approach will open new jobs and economic opportunities. Not to mention the fact that the new system will ensure that our grandchildren have a future on this planet.

The solution starts with understanding and accepting a simple truth: our economies are embedded within Nature, not external to it. Dasgupta Review 2021

One of strengths of zoos and aquariums is their unique capacity to generate a connection between animals and people. The review highlights the need for widescale and more effective environmental education, integrated into the mainstream education system. It calls for rekindling our connection to nature ‘interventions to enable people to understand and connect with Nature would not only improve our health and well-being, but also help empower citizens to make informed choices and demand the change that is needed’. Around the world, zoos and aquariums help to change the behaviour of visitors. These include campaigns to reduce single use plastic, reduce demand for palm oil, support sustainable fisheries and sustainable forestry products, reduce carbon emissions, amongst many others. And research shows that such campaigns are effective https://www.zoo.org.au/balloons/, Seafood Watch and Penguin Promises – SAAMBR. However, the review suggests that we should start working towards a wider range of community actions including ‘insisting that financiers invest our money sustainably and that firms disclose environmental conditions along their supply chains, and even boycotting products that do not meet certain standards’. This is a new challenge for zoos and aquariums as they empower the next generation of activists, who care for nature and their future.

One of the reasons for the founding of SAAMBR 70 years ago SAAMBR History – Throwback Thursday Stories – SAAMBR was the realisation, way back then, of the need to manage our use of the ocean sustainably. Fishermen on South Africa’s east coast can today still catch some species of fish, thanks to the research and management interventions undertaken many years ago. Research proves what the Dasgupta Report says – protecting nature is cheaper than trying to recover it, and that by protecting nature we are securing livelihoods and communities. Around the world zoos and aquariums engage in practical conservation, from protected area management to direct species conservation. This role will clearly need to be amplified if we are to protect the natural areas still remaining and rehabilitate those that require the most urgent attention. The review also expresses the need for changes in government policy. As trusted leaders in conservation, zoos and aquariums are well positioned to contribute to changes in government policies through effective and informed engagement. 

We hope that this review is read carefully by world leaders and that it becomes the catalyst for the transformative change society urgently needs. Ultimately, our lives depend on getting this right, now!