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Delaying action on biodiversity by just 10 years will be twice as expensive as acting immediately, reveal Natural History Museum & Vivid Economics

A new hard-hitting report, submitted as evidence to the independent Dasgupta Review, is released today. 

The Urgency of Biodiversity Action compares the cost to the world’s governments of two strategies for achieving forest conservation goals by 2050: acting now or putting action off for a decade. There is no doubt that biodiversity is in rapid global decline; or that large-scale conservation and restoration of natural forests is needed to both safeguard wild species and slow dangerous climate change. But is restoration urgent as well as important – or could we get away with waiting for a decade before we act? A team of biodiversity researchers from the Natural History Museum joined forces with strategic economist consultants from Vivid Economics to answer this unresolved question.

The answer is clear: we cannot afford to delay.

  • Citizens worldwide will have to pay twice as much if policymakers delay global action by as little as ten years rather than acting immediately. 

  • If action is delayed, it may not be feasible to stabilise biodiversity globally – even at today’s depleted level – by 2050. The pace at which biodiversity and species are being lost is speeding up; the analysis finds any delay makes it even harder to restore nature and therefore less likely it will be economically and politically feasible. The global cost of food and materials production from 2021 to 2050 is lower under immediate action and higher if action is delayed, as a share of global-average household income

  • Acting now will significantly reduce extinction rates of endemic species. Without taking more ambitious action than current global biodiversity policies involve, more endemic species are projected to go extinct in the coming 30 years than are estimated to have died out in the entire period between 850-1850 CE. Acting now can reduce this number by 25%. Such a reduction might be achievable even if we delay action – but it would double the cost. If action is both immediate and ambitious, there is an option to make a bigger reduction in extinction rates and would cost only two thirds as much as the delayed action.

The report’s conclusions are based on different levels and timescales of restoration through reforestation of naturally forested areas across the world to generate positive outcomes for biodiversity. 

Natural History Museum biodiversity researchers Professor Andy Purvis, Dr Adriana De Palma and Dr Ricardo Gonzalez worked on the report. Professor Andy Purvis says: “Our own future is intertwined with nature’s future. Deforestation doesn’t only drive species extinct – it speeds up climate change and makes future pandemics more likely. Our analysis demonstrates the urgency of protecting and restoring natural forests. If we take ambitious action now, we can bend the curve of biodiversity loss by 2050. But kicking the can down the road for a decade will double the cost of action – and the action is less likely to work. Ignoring the problem is leaving future generations with a broken planet; acting now could fix it.”

A team at Vivid Economics worked on the report. Vivid Economics Director, Robin Smale, says: “Getting to a sustainable future - one in which people and the planet can thrive - needs us to mend our relationship with nature. The Nature Positive Transition which we model in this report will affect all parts of the economy which have a material impact on nature on land and in the oceans. Governments possess the political, legal and economic power to coordinate their economies ‘to help save the natural world and in doing so save ourselves’, as Sir David Attenborough said. First, by declaring a clear time-bound mission to transition the economy to becoming Nature Positive. Second, to lay out clear rules of the game, cascading from government to regulators, financial institutions, corporations and consumers. The Urgency of Action report shows that we cannot afford to wait before adopting the Mission and Rules of the Nature Positive Transition.”

The report makes a series of policy recommendations which include:

  • Improve immediately the effectiveness of protected area enforcement, which is the cheapest form of action.

  • Taking the example of forests, develop immediately reforestation programmes using planting, which will support biodiversity more quickly than natural regrowth, prioritising reforestation in areas of high species endemism in fragmented forest and adjacent to existing forest. Planting achieves outcomes fastest and targeting locations brings the greatest biodiversity benefit.

  • Design biodiversity incentive mechanisms which complement and incorporate greenhouse gas payments, in the form of advance market commitments, to target biodiversity-rich areas and places with high restoration potential. Incentives will drive market action.

  • Introduce rules requiring that reforestation and afforestation projects in receipt of funds from greenhouse gas payments (for example, carbon credits) also maximise biodiversity. Costs will be higher if carbon projects do not jointly deliver biodiversity.

  • Announce immediately the future ambition and likely level of biodiversity incentives, and translate these into investor-relevant scenarios, so that people can take investment decisions consistent with them. Advance announcement keeps the costs of adjustment down.

  • Transform the finance sector to bring it into line with a Nature Positive Transition, as set out in Aligning Global Finance with Nature’s Needs.

  • Redeploy immediately food and materials production subsidies into (i) yield improving technology adoption including ecological intensification and irrigation (where water is available), in locations where yields lag behind their potential; (ii) biodiversity incentives; and (iii) funding of protected areas. Economic incentives must work for, not against, biodiversity, climate and nutrition outcomes.

This report contributed to The Economics of Biodiversity: The Dasgupta Review – an independent, global review on the economics of biodiversity led by Professor Sir Partha Dasgupta, Frank Ramsey Emeritus Professor of Economics at the University of Cambridge. Both reports underline the need for a fundamental change in how we think about and approach economics in order to reverse biodiversity loss and protect and enhance our prosperity. 

Professor Andy Purvis and fellow Natural History Museum biodiversity researcher Dr Adriana De Palma will be taking part in a live virtual discussion about this report tomorrow (11 February) at 12.30pm, available to watch here. The event is part of the Museum’s Our Broken Planet: How We Got Here and Ways to Fix it year-long season of activity which is aiming to kick-start a public debate with visitors to the Museum galleries and its vast global audience online about why and how our relationship with the natural world needs to change.


Notes for editors 

Please access the full report here.

Natural History Media contact: Tel: +44 (0)20 7942 5654/ (0)779 969 0151 Email: press@nhm.ac.uk 

Vivid Economics Media contact: Tel: +44 (0)7823 329 054 Email: robin.smale@vivideconomics.com

About the Natural History Museum

The Natural History Museum is both a world-leading science research centre and the most-visited natural history museum in Europe. With a vision of a future in which both people and the planet thrive, it is uniquely positioned to be a powerful champion for balancing humanity’s needs with those of the natural world. 

It is custodian of one of the world’s most important scientific collections comprising over 80 million specimens. The scale of this collection enables researchers from all over the world to document how species have and continue to respond to environmental changes - which is vital in helping predict what might happen in the future and informing future policies and plans to help the planet. 

The Museum’s 300 scientists continue to represent one of the largest groups in the world studying and enabling research into every aspect of the natural world. Their science is contributing critical data to help the global fight to save the future of the planet from the major threats of climate change and biodiversity loss through to finding solutions such as the sustainable extraction of natural resources.

The Museum uses its enormous global reach and influence to meet its mission to create advocates for the planet - to inform, inspire and empower everyone to make a difference for nature. We welcome over five million visitors each year; our digital output reaches hundreds of thousands of people in over 200 countries each month and our touring exhibitions have been seen by around 30 million people in the last 10 years.  

About Vivid Economics

Today, Vivid Economics is internationally recognised for ‘putting economics to good use’ in tackling some of the world’s greatest challenges. With more than 120 employees and offices in London, Amsterdam and Washington DC, we offer global strategic economics consultancy spanning public policy and support for commercial decision making for our clients around the world. Our mission-driven work spans a wide range of sectors and themes, with global reach, and we pride ourselves on the depth of our expertise, the rigor of our analytic tools, and the flexibility of our approach to making change happen.

With the aim to cater to the growing market for creative economists and an ambition to enhance the quality and robustness of analysis focused on the environment, Vivid Economics’ experts are proud to offer their services in a suite of diverse disciplines ranging from climate change and natural resources, to industrial transformation and energy, international development, trade, urbanisation, earth observation, and transaction support.

The report ‘Aligning Global Finance with Nature’s Needs’ was published by the Finance for Biodiversity Initiative and authored by Robin Smale and Simon Zadek. It sets out a framework for systemic change of the financial system, at the heart of the transition to a Nature Positive Econo