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Transform financial systems so they are in service of nature, say experts

A panel of economists, including Kate Raworth and Dr Mark Carney, have called for nature to be valued more highly by governments and financial systems.

Speaking at the Museum's Annual Science Lecture, economists and scientists debated the best way to reach net zero carbon - a state in which we balance the greenhouse gasses going into the atmosphere with those taken out. Achieving net zero is a key step on the world's journey to solving the climate crisis.

Dr Mark Carney, UN Special Envoy for Climate Action and Finance, said that solving climate change is the greatest economic opportunity of our time.

He outlined the terrible impact humanity is having on the natural world and argued that we face a crisis of values.

He said, 'The impacts on our planet's finely tuned ecosystems are intensifying. Our oceans have become 30%more acidic since the Industrial Revolution. Sea levels have risen 20 centimetres over the past century, with the rate doubling in the past two decades. The pace of ice loss in Antarctica has tripled over the last decade. Extreme climatic events like hurricanes, wildfires and flash flooding are multiplying. What had been biblical is becoming commonplace.'

Dr Carney pointed out that not only is nature disappearing every day, the economic impacts of climate change are mounting.

For example, since the 1980s, the number of extreme weather events has tripled causing a five-fold increase in property destruction. Improving how we value nature within the context of our financial systems can help the world to recognise the catastrophic depletion of our natural heritage and begin to reverse it.

Five panellists under the whale in Hintze Hall.

Dr Tim Littlewood (far left) with panellists at the 2021 Annual Science Lecture. Tim was joined by Dr Mark Carney, Kate Raworth, Professor Ian Bateman and Professor Andy Purvis.

Dr Carney said that businesses need to become as good at sustainability reporting as they are at financial reporting. Sustainability should one day become as important as economic growth.

He also added that his objective at this year's UN Climate Change Conference, due to be held in Glasgow in November, was to 'put in place the foundations so that every financial decision takes climate change into account.' He said that the financial sector can help facilitate the race to net zero carbon.

Kate Raworth, author of Doughnut Economics, is based at University of Oxford and spoke beside Dr Carney in a panel discussion.

She argued that rather than think about nature as a financial asset, we need to radically transform our economies and our industries.

She said, 'Industry and finance is still pitched around the idea that it can get double-digit returns for financial investors while doing some reduction on carbon emissions and some reduction on material, and actually this should be flipped.

'This is a decade in which we should be delivering double digit cuts on carbon emissions year-on-year, double digit cuts in resource use year-on-year. And the financial investors get the returns that are the result of that commitment to creating industry that is compatible with life.

'Why can finance still expect to get its 15% while the Earth is dying? Surely this is a time for finance to be transformed to be in service to the living world.'

Professor Andy Purvis, a biodiversity research at the Museum, said, 'We have to find ways of putting nature on the balance sheet, because the balance sheet, from nature's perspective, makes shocking reading. We've got a million species threatened with extinction.

'Transforming to an economy that nurtures nature will mean that the Earth will be able to support all of humanity more easily. We would see fewer extinctions, fewer pandemics, fewer floods, fewer wildfires, fewer famines, fewer mass migrations caused by crop failures. We will have a more peaceful world.'

Watch the Annual Science Lecture in full


Estimates suggest that protecting and restoring forests, peatlands and wetlands will have a huge impact on carbon emissions. These natural solutions often the cheapest solutions, and they also improve people's health and create new jobs.

But natural climate solutions have only received a small share of climate finance in recent years. Dr Carney said that rapidly scaling them up could help address the twin crises of climate change and biodiversity loss.

Dr Carney also pointed out that a price can never reflect nature's true value.  Nature has inherent value independent of its economic contributions. We love nature because it is beautiful and transformative, because it boosts our sense of wellbeing.

He finished his keynote speech by saying, 'We need to count the value of nature in her own terms: by number of species, hectares of forest, hecta-litres of clean water.'

It's not just businesses that can make a difference to nature. Even an individual can help to protect it.

Kate Raworth explained, 'We all have a chance to influence…all change begins in the conviction of an individual.

'In our own homes each of us can do so much. We can change what we eat and how we travel, or what we think a good holiday is. We can switch our money from a bank that doesn't give a damn to one that does. We can move our energy supply to a company that only delivers 100% renewable energy. We can divest and invest and protest. All of us are very powerful.'

Download and read Dr Carney's full keynote speech (PDF 230KB).