Expert committee highlights huge economic opportunities from investing in nature

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In a new interim report, the Natural Capital Committee warns that the Government remains off track in achieving its nature objectives set nine years ago.

The Natural Capital Committee has published its response to the Government’s progress report on the 25 Year Environment Plan, concluding that the Government remains off-track to achieve its commitment to ‘leave the natural environment of England in a better state than it inherited’ made nine years ago in the 2011 Natural Environment White Paper.

Read the full interim report.

The Government’s progress report, published in June 2020, shows a continued decline in England’s environment, including:

  • Only 38.9% of protected terrestrial and freshwater sites have been restored to favourable condition, a 2.2% increase since 2013. The 25 Year Environment Plan (25 YEP) target is 75%.
  • Only 16% of England’s surface water bodies are in ‘high’ or ‘good’ condition status.
  • Government has missed its own woodland planting targets for the last eight years.

The interim report by the Committee highlights the opportunity for the Government to invest in nature as part of a resilient green recovery from COVID-19 by evidencing the significant economic returns that can be generated alongside achieving the targets in the 25 Year Environment Plan. The Committee outlines how natural capital investments can often generate higher benefit-cost ratios than investments in built capital, providing huge opportunities for regions to adopt new strategies for not only recovering their economies, but also to ‘level them up’ with other parts of the UK. For example, planting woodland around the periphery of major towns and cities across the country would create economic benefits of nearly £550m per annum across the country.

Professor Dieter Helm, Chair of the Natural Capital Committee said:

“Nine years have passed since the Government committed to leaving the environment in a better state than it inherited, yet there is still no clear evidence of sufficient progress. An environmental baseline census for measuring progress is urgently needed. Much of the current environmental spending remains inefficient and siloed. The triple challenges of net zero, the Environment Bill targets and reform of agricultural policy offer a once in a generation opportunity to transform our natural environment.”

The interim report also reveals that the Government has continuously failed to put in place the appropriate measurement tools to monitor changes in the environment, including measuring and understanding the impact of restoration interventions. The Committee outlines how this is vital for tracking the progress of targets and sets out a new framework for the Government.

To ensure the Government upholds its ambition to significantly improve the environment and does not soften its commitment in favour of other Government priorities, the Committee urges the Government to properly resource and expand the remit of the new Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) in the Environment Bill so that the Government must consider and respond to its advice on setting and any revisions to interim and long term targets.

The Natural Capital Committee (NCC) is an independent advisory committee that provides guidance on the sustainable use of natural resources to the UK government. The NCC was established for a second term in 2016 (following its initial term that ran from 2012 to 2015) to help the government develop and implement its 25 Year Environment Plan. SWEEP colleagues Professor Ian Bateman, and Professor Melanie Austen are both members of the committee.

The NCC’s final progress report will be published in October 2020 and will provide advice on how the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) can undertake its function of independent scrutiny from 2021.

Read the full interim report

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