Nature, and its services, is not budgeted at its true value
At the end of February, the publication of the Dasgupta report on mandate of the UK Ministry of Finance (🙂) caused a buzz (see ref. 1). Its recommendations are revolutionary for economists and financiers. Nations are mistaken in considering that nature can be overexploited, and that technology will address imbalances. In short, to consider nature as external to humanity (“externalities” in jargon).
The result? Public budgets that subsidize destruction and protection of biodiversity at the same time. In Switzerland, the total amount of biodiversity-damaging subsidies amounts to 40 billion francs, 40 times more than subsidies for biodiversity (see ref. 2).
The other consequence highlighted by Sir Dasgupta: the lack of economic value to nature. A company cannot put on its balance sheet actions that are favourable to nature and that benefit all. For example, coastal conservation could save insurance companies $52 billion a year. However, the latter have no advantage in protecting the coasts, since they will gain nothing, especially in front of their shareholders.
Shareholders in search of new benchmarks?
This makes it very difficult to incorporate the true value of natural capital into financial results. Danone proved this at the expense of its CEO (see ref. 3.). Indeed, the latter was dismissed for poor performance, under pressure from shareholders. Because Danone has not been able to integrate its rich and exemplary environmental policy into the capital, and therefore its remuneration.
Two trends are competing among shareholders, one that seeks to maintain high returns and one that requires a growing integration of environmental and social criteria (see ref. 4).
And yet, 2020 showed that companies with strong ESG (Environmental and Social Governance) had suffered less from the pandemic. And for several years, economists have pointed out that a strong environmental commitment facilitates access to capital. Or that reducing CO2 emissions helps strengthen its supply chains. Among post-pandemic trends, UBS identified the environment as a theme for attracting capital, financial for sure 😉 (see ref. 5.).
And lo and behold, the Green Gross Domestic Product and Capital Natural are there
The United Nations recently adopted a new standard of national accounting that allows us to go beyond GDP. For example, Indonesia has simulated the evolution of its GDP according to various climate change adaptation programmes (see ref. 6.). Similarly, companies can also integrate the services they benefit from nature, in their accounting, through the Natural Capital Protocol. And to show their shareholders that managing their natural capital sustainably means ensuring sustainable returns.
So, stay tuned and step out for fresh air!
- Dasgupta P., The Economics of Biodiversity: The Dasgupta Review, HM Treasury of the United Kingdom, 2021
- Gubler L. et al., Subventions dommageables à la biodiversité en Suisse ,Swiss Academies Factsheet 15, 2020
- Tchotourian I., Entreprise à mission : le cas Danone, 2020, article paru sur https://www.gouvernance-rse.ca/
- O’Kelley R., 2021 Global and Regional Trends in Corporate Governance, Russel Reynolds Associates, 2021
- Whittaker R. et al., Sustainable investing after COVID-19. Sustainable investing, UBS Financial Services Inc., 2020
- Union Européenne, Biodiversity: ground-breaking change to economic reporting accounting for nature’s contribution to economy, 2021, article sur www.ec.europa.eu