Pavan Sukhdev for accounting that is inclusive of real natural wealth

Environmental economist Pavan Sukhdev, who stresses eco-friendly agriculture, solar power and protection of biodiversity and ecosystem services as free sources of income for the poor, is the new Goodwill Ambassador of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

An advocate of ‘GDP of the poor’ and biodiversity benefits going to millions of India’s less affluent citizens, Mr. Sukhdev spoke on many platforms at the ongoing Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity here on Wednesday. He was formally inducted by Achim Steiner, Executive Director, UNEP, to join such predecessors as Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bundchen, French photographer Yann Arthus-Bertrand and American actor Don Cheadle.

Even before he signed up for the role, Mr. Sukhdev, author of a forthcoming ‘do-it-right’ book, Corporation 2020 — Transforming Business for Tomorrow’s World, was talking to the media about empirical studies that showed a sharp increase in yield when farmers moved away from chemical fertilizer and pesticides, the unsuitability of markets to handle public goods from nature, and the need to have a good dashboard of indices to measure economic development that includes contributions made by nature.

“The current system of national accounting that does not include ecosystem services from forests, wetlands and freshwater is erroneous. We must move to green accounting that is inclusive of real natural wealth,” he said.

Mr. Sukhdev is the founder-CEO of GIST Advisory, a consulting firm that is helping governments and corporations in the measurement, valuation and management of their impacts on natural and human capital. He leads the study commissioned by the G8+5 countries on ‘The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity,’ or TEEB, and the Green Economy Initiative of the UNEP.

At present, development, environment and social equity exist as separate silos, and there is a need for actions combining all three, he said. In India, the TEEB study reveals, an estimated 350 million households rely on nature for 47 per cent of their income, while in Indonesia, the corresponding figure is 100 million households (75 per cent) and in Brazil, 20 million households (89 per cent).

Citing the scope of the green economy, he says 40 million homes in China use solar thermal technology to heat water, which covers one-tenth of the population and promotes the health of the elderly who suffer from arthritis.

In addition, it generates 600,000 jobs from this sector alone. India lags in the use of solar thermal and other renewable power technologies.

“We have the new DNA to pursue a green economic path,” Mr. Sukhdev emphasised, calling for a shift from the 20th century development patterns. He praised Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for including the ‘GDP of the poor’ concept in his address to the CBD plenary.