Long-term degradation of the natural environment has to be reversed not just for the good of the future or other species but because it underpins economic growth and social well-being, experts have told the government.
Earlier this year, Environment Secretary Michael Gove formally asked members of the Natural Capital Committee (NCC), including Professor Ian Bateman from the University of Exeter, for advice on shaping the future of environmental policy.
In a newly-published report the NCC has now advised the government on what a 25-year environment plan should include.
This advice sets out five elements for a successful plan:
- A clear vision and ambition for the next 25 years, setting out what the committee see as “the prize”; a set of measureable goals including:
- Clean and healthy air, freshwater, seas and soils
- Tackling climate change and flooding
- Thriving wildlife
- Better access to green space and connections to nature
- Sustainable development
- International environmental improvements
- An extensive set of public and private investments to kick-start delivery of these goals, including the establishment of woodlands near to deprived populations and empowering water companies to avoid pollution at source rather than cleaning up its consequences
- A set of milestones throughout the 25-year lifetime of the plan to ensure its commencement is not delayed and progress is monitored
- Changes in governance to ensure delivery, including placing the plan and its monitoring on a statutory rather than voluntary footing
- Specific proposals for the reform of agricultural and forestry policy
The committee also recommends the creation of new national parks and a significant expansion of green spaces in the UK, particularly in areas which would benefit disadvantaged communities.
The report also endorsed previous calls for the restoration of degraded peatland systems and for a move towards a coherent national network of conservation sites to protect and enhance populations of wild species.
With regard to the marine environment, the report calls for seas that are clean (with pollutants such as plastics eliminated), productive and biologically diverse with fish populations restored to sustainable levels.
Professor Bateman, who is Director of SWEEP, and the University of Exeter’s Land, Environment, Economics and Policy Institute (LEEP) said he and the committee members were delighted by the positive reception the report had been given to date, and are hopeful this will be reflected in the government’s 25-year environment plan, which is expected to be published towards the end of the year.
The NCC is an independent advisory committee which provides advice to the government on the sustainable use of natural capital – natural assets including forests, rivers, land, minerals and oceans.
The committee first recommended a radical change in environmental policy in 2015 when it called for a 25-year plan for the environment.
This proposal was subsequently adopted by all major political parties prior to the General Election and both the present and previous government committed to developing a 25-year environment plan.
While it works closely with the Secretary of State, the committee formally reports to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Phillip Hammond, as Chair of the Economic Affairs Committee; a chain of command that recognises the vital role of natural capital in underpinning the economy.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]