Climate Change

2020 Tyler Prize for the environment awarded to Indian economist who formulated Green Economy

Pavan Sukhdev, environmental economist, and Gretchen C Daily, conservation biologist, will share this year’s ‘Nobel Prize for the Environment’

By Pushp Bajaj
Published: Thursday 30 January 2020

The Tyler Prize 2020 has been awarded to two pioneers who quantified the economic value of our natural environment.

In recent decades, we have seen increasing attacks on biodiversity and ecosystems from climate change and human exploitation. At the same time, we have seen an enhanced societal appreciation for the multitude of ways in which we depend on our natural environment. 

These two experts in very different areas of research have played a major role in improving our understanding of nature’s value in supporting human wellbeing. 

Pavan Sukhdev, an international banker by training, was the lead expert on the first report of The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) published in 2008 as an initiative the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). TEEB has since become a leading global initiative focussed on “making nature’s values visible”.

Following the 2008 report, the United Nations-appointed Sukhdev to lead the ‘Green Economy Initiative’ launched in 2009 by the UN secretary-general. For the first time, this initiative quantified the economic value of ‘natural capital’ and how moving towards a green economy could be a source of new employment and a means to alleviate poverty. 

It is for his work on the TEEB and the Green Economy initiative that Sukhdev, currently President of WWF and founder-chief executive of GIST Advisory, has been awarded the 2020 Tyler Prize. His sustainability consulting firm GIST advisory is helping corporations and governments to transition to sustainable future. 

Sukhdev will be sharing the award with Gretchen C Daily, director of the Center for Conservation Biology at Stanford University and co-founder of Natural Capital
Project (NatCap). Its stated mission is “pioneer the science, technology and partnerships that enable informed decisions for people and nature to thrive.”

Her ground-breaking work on forecasting biodiversity change and valuation of ecosystems and their services began in her early academic career as a PhD student. Since then, Daily’s work, that earned her this year’s Tyler Prize, changed the narrative around biodiversity conservation from protecting the “richness and beauty” of nature to preserving the invaluable services that natural systems provide us. 

Today, Daily’s NatCap is a leading global organisation providing policy makers with information on the services provided by natural ecosystems. The organization enables governments to make the right policies directed towards conservation of nature and its value to human civilizations. 

The innovative software ‘InVEST’ created by NatCap assesses risks and costs associated with loss of biodiversity and estimates the return-on-investment in nature, under future scenarios. 

“We can think of ecosystems as a type of capital asset; just as we have assets like human capital, or financial capital, we also have ‘natural capital’,” Daily said in a press release

“We depend utterly on living natural capital - Earth’s lands, waters and biodiversity … but around the world, we are liquidating naturem at accelerating rates,” she added. 

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