Pioneering scholar to talk on the economics of biodiversity

One of the world’s leading authorities on the impact of economic and population growth on the environment will give a free public lecture as Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington’s and Te Pūtea Matua—Reserve Bank of New Zealand’s 2020 Professorial Fellow in Monetary and Financial Economics.

Sir Partha Dasgupta is the Frank Ramsey Emeritus Professor of Economics at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom and Chair of the Management Board of its Centre for the Study of Existential Risk.

Last year, the UK government appointed Sir Partha to head an independent global review to assess the economic benefits of biodiversity and the economic costs and risks of its loss, and to identify actions to enhance biodiversity and economic growth.

Previously, he has co-organised influential workshops with the Vatican, including one in 2015 that contributed to the Papal Encyclical on Climate Change, released in advance of the following year’s Paris Agreement.

Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz credits Sir Partha as one of the pioneers in the 1960s and 70s that “defined the field of the economics of natural resources for a generation” and with identifying “the nexus between development, growth, inequality, and the environment”.

In 2009, Utne Reader magazine in the United States named him one of the 50 Visionaries Who Are Changing the World.

Blending economics, ecology and philosophy, Sir Partha’s research over the past 50 years has addressed such issues as redefining ‘wealth’ to take account of natural and other forms of capital; exploring how malnutrition acts as a poverty trap; optimum human population levels; and the intergenerational consequences of our actions today.

As well as at Cambridge, he has taught at the London School of Economics and Stanford University in the US. His fellowships include the Royal Society and he was knighted in 2002 for his services to economics.

In a 2014 collection of essays in his honour, it was said Sir Partha “has taken on some of the biggest questions in economics”, with “the poorest of the poor and the pathways by which they can escape their misery” one of his greatest interests, along with overcoming the “neglect of nature in modern economic analysis”.

Sir Partha’s books include The Control of Resources (1982), An Inquiry into Well-Being and Destitution (1993), Human Well-Being and the Natural Environment (2001) and Time and the Generations: Population Ethics for a Diminishing Planet (2019).

Also published last year was the Sir Partha co-edited Biological Extinction: New Perspectives, in which he and Paul Ehrlich, Bing Professor of Population Studies in the Center for Conservation Biology at Stanford, wrote: “One reason humanity should care about the destruction of biodiversity is that it leads to the deterioration of ecosystem services upon which civilisation is utterly dependent … Most of these ecosystem services cannot be replaced by artificial means. The few that can will incur extraordinary costs. It is far better to avoid destroying the services that nature provides for free, than to incur massive costs for replacements that will never be complete. Moreover, it is the poor of the world who are most directly dependent upon ecosystem services.”

The Professorial Fellowship in Monetary and Financial Economics is in its 26th year and Sir Partha is the latest in a long line of distinguished scholars to spend one week at the Reserve Bank and a second at Victoria University of Wellington sharing their expertise.

Professor Ian Williamson, Pro-Vice-Chancellor and Dean of Commerce at the University’s Wellington School of Business and Government, says Sir Partha’s visit supports the University’s many contributions to sustainable development and wellbeing.

“Sir Partha’s abiding themes speak directly to the concerns of New Zealanders, whether it is inequality and poverty or climate change and the state of the environment and their impact on our children’s futures,” says Professor Williamson.

The Assistant Governor of the Reserve Bank, Christian Hawkesby, says central banks globally are actively considering the implications of climate change on the financial system.

“Climate change is a priority for the Reserve Bank and for the whole financial system. Sir Partha’s visit will help inform our understanding and response to this pressing issue to help contribute to a sustainable future for all.”

The Economics of Biodiversity
Professor Sir Partha Dasgupta
Tuesday 18 February
Reception 5.30 pm, lecture 6–7 pm
Lecture Theatre 1, Rutherford House, 23 Lambton Quay, Wellington