The Natural Capital Committee (NCC), an independent advisory committee which advises the government on natural capital, such as forests, rivers, minerals and oceans, has published its 2020 Annual Report to the EU Exit, Economy and Trade Committee.
It has been nine years since the Government published the White Paper, The Natural Choice, committing to the objective “to be the first generation to leave the natural environment of England in a better state than it inherited”.
The publication in 2018 of the 25 Year Environment Plan (25 YEP), as advised by the Natural Capital Committee, was a positive step. However, government’s first report on progress against the 25 YEP published in 2019 provides very little evidence of improvement in the state of England’s natural capital. Several areas continue to decline at an alarming pace. Turning this around brings huge economic and environmental opportunities.
The Committee is chaired by Professor Dieter Helm and has six other members who collectively bring world-class expertise and experience in the fields of ecology and environmental science, economics, accounting and business. The members include Professors Melanie Austen (Plymouth Marine Laboratory) and Ian Bateman (University of Exeter) from SWEEP.
The main recommendations from the NCC 2020 Annual Report are:
- The Environment Bill should include a general duty to protect and enhance the natural environment, and legally binding interim and long term targets for each of the ten 25 YEP goals. Long term targets in the four priority areas is insufficient.
- The current powers within the Environment Bill for the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) are likely to result in a weaker regime for holding the government and its agencies to account for environmental degradation. It is critical that the OEP has the independence, resources and teeth to deliver its role.
- Very little progress has been made towards the ten 25 YEP goals. A proper assessment is inhibited by the lack of an environmental baseline census against which progress can be measured. A comprehensive, England-wide environmental census of the stock of natural capital assets is urgently needed.
- The government’s net zero target should be viewed in the broader context of the ten 25 YEP goals. Any nature based interventions for delivering net zero should take a natural capital approach, incorporating the multiple goals of the 25 YEP as part of a joined up government response to climate change.
The NCC’s Annual Report makes further recommendations, covering the biodiversity net gain measure in the Environment Bill and the need for an environmental net gain approach, the Agriculture and Fisheries bills, the Environmental Land Management Scheme, and natural capital accounting.
Professor Dieter Helm, Chairman of the Natural Capital Committee, said:
“Of prime importance in the Environment Bill, once it reintroduced, is to ensure that the 25 YEP is put on a statutory basis along with all ten goals, with firm, statutory milestones. All environmental institutions must be aligned to ensure that the 25 YEP’s objectives are met. The absence of progress since 2011 is more notable than the successes. To allow this to continue to happen would not only undermine confidence in environmental policy as we leave the European Union, but condemn the next generation to a poorer economy and environment.”
The Natural Capital Committee 2020 Annual Report is available to read on the Natural Capital Committee pages of the GOV.UK website at: www.gov.uk/government/publications/natural-capital-committees-seventh-annual-report