The world’s wealth is looking increasingly unnatural

【双语】资本损耗 Capital pains-书迷号

NATURE’S BOUNTY is not easy to count, partly because she was kind enough not to bill us for it. Some economists, however, have attempted to put a dollar figure on the value of the world’s land, forests, fisheries, minerals and fossil fuels—or what is left of them. Their work has fed into the Inclusive Wealth project, initiated by the United Nations, directed by Managi Shunsuke of Kyushu University and advised by Sir Partha Dasgupta of Cambridge. They estimate the world’s natural capital amounted to over $91trn in 2014, or over $13,000 per person. (The estimates use 2005 exchange rates and prices.) New Zealand has more natural capital per person ($380,000) than oil-rich Kuwait ($362,000) or Saudi Arabia ($180,000). Gabon has more than anywhere else.

自然的恩赐不容易计算,部分原因是大自然够宽容,没给我们开账单。不过,一些经济学家尝试计算出世界上的(或者说世界上尚存留的)土地、森林、水产、矿产和化石燃料的美元价值。他们的研究成果已被纳入“包容性财富”(Inclusive Wealth)项目,该项目由联合国发起,由日本九州大学的马奈木俊介主持,剑桥大学的帕萨·达斯古普塔(Partha Dasgupta)担任顾问。据他们估算,2014年世界自然资本总值超过91万亿美元,人均超过1.3万美元。(该估算使用了2005年的汇率和价格。)新西兰的人均自然资本(38万美元)高于盛产石油的科威特(36.2万美元)或沙特阿拉伯(18万美元)。加蓬领先所有其他国家。

Many researchers now think of natural resources as a “curse” that erodes competitiveness and breeds corruption—economies which are heavily dependent on exporting raw materials are often dominated by small, rapacious elites. For example, Congo, which relies on mining, has about 25% more natural capital per person than the global average, but remains desperately poor. Conversely, countries like Singapore enjoy a high GDP per person despite an utter lack of God-given resources. About two-thirds of Singapore’s wealth consists instead of traditional capital: infrastructure, buildings, plant and equipment. The rest is the “human capital” reflected in its people and their skills.


On average, however, countries with more natural capital also tend to have a higher GDP per person. So is it a curse or a blessing? Some economists argue that natural bounty raises the level of GDP but slows its growth rate: it provides an additional, steady stream of income that grows less quickly than the rest of the economy.


One reason may be that resources become harder to extract as they are depleted. According to the Inclusive Wealth Report, 47% of the world’s natural capital comprises fossil fuels (oil, natural gas and coal) and minerals (copper, gold, iron and so on) that took an eternity to form and will not be replaced. From 1990 to 2014, the stock of natural capital per person fell in 128 out of the 140 countries in the report.


Will that trend continue? Together with Yogi Sugiawan, formerly of Kyushu University, and Robi Kurniawan of Tohoku University, Mr Managi has calculated the future trajectory of natural capital under a variety of scenarios. In a future of continued high energy demand, carbon emissions can be expected to grow by 7% in high-income countries and by 44% in the rest of the world over the next two decades.

这种趋势会持续下去吗?马奈木俊介与曾在九州大学任职的约吉·苏吉阿弯(Yogi Sugiawan)以及日本东北大学的罗比·古尼阿弯(Robi Kurniawan)一起计算了各种情景下自然资本未来的变化轨迹。在未来能源需求持续高企的情况下,预计未来20年高收入国家的碳排放将增长7%,世界其他地区将增长44%。

In such a scenario, the world will continue to grow wealthier, but natural assets will diminish rapidly as a share of its portfolio. A typical person in one of today’s high-income countries will have 21% less natural capital at their disposal in 2040 than they do today. In other, poorer countries they will have 17% less.


According to these projections, only 12 countries will increase their stock of natural capital per person over the next two decades. And in 39 countries, including resource superpowers like Brazil, Russia and Saudi Arabia, the stock will fall by over 30%. Financial capital tends to accumulate. Natural capital seems destined to do the opposite. ■