Is there a market for nature?

When you work in conservation policy for any length of time you become a geek, a geek who uses jargon which few other people understand and it becomes just another part of everyday life. But honestly, who thought up “Ecosystems Markets Task Force”? Virtually impossible to enunciate with any clarity and meaningless to most. 

Tuesday 5th March saw the launch of the Ecosystems Markets Task Force final report (hereafter referred to as the EMTF to save my irritation). EMTF was a commitment from the Coalition Government as part of their Natural Environment White Paper and part of a bigger move towards assessing the value of nature to the country and the economy: 

Commitment 44 in the Natural Environment White Paper

The Government will set up a business-led EMTF to review the opportunities for UK business from expanding green goods, services, products, investment vehicles and markets which value and protect nature’s services. 

Pollination is an ecosystem service

Pollination is an ecosystem service

One of the underpinning beliefs behind the setting up of the task force is that if market failure has led to the loss of biodiversity and ongoing damage to the environment, then there must be market-led options that could contribute to a solution. The task force consisted of business and environmental representatives who identified four areas for further work at the interim stage; carbon and markets for nature, natural capital: resource security & resilience, the food cycle; nature in agriculture and fisheries and the water cycle: water quality, quantity and flood risk management. 

The final report highlights 5 ‘headline’ or priority recommendations, with another 17 secondary recommendations. The report talks about aiming to integrate the real value of nature into business thinking and has some harsh words on existing practice – take, make, discard. There is a recognition of what many of the major companies already know, that using nature as a “isn’t it great we are doing something positive” sales pitch is no longer enough. The environment must be built into a company’s risk assessment, good environmental practice adds to resilience. 

The 5 priority recommendations are:

  1. Biodiversity Offsetting: securing net gain for nature from planning and development
  2. Closing the loop: anaerobic digestion and bioenergy on farms
  3. Local woodfuel supply chains: active sustainable management supporting local economies
  4. Nature-based certification and labelling: connecting consumers with nature
  5. Water cycle catchment management: integrating nature into water, waste water and flood management

Some of the secondary recommendations are less predictable and more innovative – e.g. environmental bonds, which is taking a recognised financial mechanism and turning it to a new use – and some are things that the environment lobby has been banging on about for years and are now finally being recognised by a wider audience – e.g. in infrastructure planning, explicitly recognise the importance of managing ecosystems to improve the resilience of UK infrastructure and business to extreme events.

Setting a value to nature is a controversial idea and many people are worried by the juxtaposition of business and nature, but the final report is an interesting read because there is an honest assessment of the risks as well as the potential benefits. Let me quote from the commentary on the recommendation on biodiversity offsetting: 

“This is not about companies offsetting impacts on biodiversity across all their operations. It is not a raft of new burdens on developers nor is it a “license to trash” nature. It is about better regulation, developing a well-defined market which delivers “net gain” for nature which the current planning system has generally failed to do.” 

However, the report identifies more questions than it answers. The words may be good but there will be much work needed to turn some of these recommendations into achievable actions. There is also a tendency to look at using existing, well recognised mechanisms such as the Rural Development Regulations rather than tackling known barriers – e.g. rising cost of insurance for flooding versus green environment solutions such as planting trees to reduce flooding. 

There is a lot to ponder in this document and I will return to some of it in more detail, watch out for later blogs on these. As with the recent Independent Panel on Forestry, the Government will give itself time to read the report and then produce a response, there is also crossover between the two reports in terms of recommendations so it will be interesting to see how this develops.

Frances Winder, Conservation Policy Officer

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About Kaye Brennan

Senior Campaigner (Policy & Advocacy) for the Woodland Trust and Administrator, 'Woodland Matters' blog
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9 Responses to Is there a market for nature?

  1. Pingback: Time to sit up and listen: business, natural capital, and the Ecosystem Markets Task Force | rickylawton

  2. Tony says:

    Just imagine if every building was green roofed in our cities. Each and every farmer became some of the most valued and highly paid of our workforce. I believe radical rethinking is required because as in life itself, ecosystems are born from the bottom-up. Great strides are being made and most of the evidence on which the progress is based, comes from the scientific community. We can live in a wildlife-friendly manner and currently it appears the third-world countries are the ones getting things right and are seemingly leading the way in their radical thinking.

  3. Alex Jones says:

    Wrong approach. Sustainability is to be built in to existing business processes rather than be a commercial product in itself.

  4. Mike Hollebone says:

    Dear Sir I would like to unsubscribe to this web-site please the bulletins are far too frequent Thank you.

    _____

  5. Hope you never give up, and keep your torch burning … it makes a difference to us all wherever we are….and I’m in the antipodes !

  6. Peter Kyte says:

    Sustainable development has been a buzzword for some time now but I have yet to see it transferred to action. New houses, roads, railways, retail parks and now wholesale gas fracking. Where is the sustainability in all these developments? We have a finite amount of land in the UK to grow food on, for recreation and wildlife diversity and all three are being eroded by all the competing demands for new development and land use. True sustainable development would be to only use land that has already been degraded by use, not to use up greenbelt land or agricultural land, which are already shrinking. The true cost of any development is not presently translated into environmental mitigation if it were then the financial cost to develop greenbelt land for any purpose would or should be prohibitively expensive.

  7. Roderick Leslie says:

    I don’t think we should be ‘offsetting': what we should be doing is creating new settings for existing and new towns and cities – the places we live ringed with green, accessible space for high-quality exercise, relaxing with nature, slowing the flood upstream and absorbing grey runoff downstream and producing green energy from the trees in a mosaic of habitats.

    The housing Minister is wrong that we need to concrete over 3% more of our countryside to house the nation – at most, at present densities of building, we need another 1%; wouldn’t it be great if the other 2% was low intensity management green space for people, for nature and for the environment ?

    And wouldn’t it be great if instead of battling over our failing negative planning system we as a society (not just Government) developed a positive approach that got the right results through incentive to private business, not regulation which fails time and time again ?

    • Frances Winder says:

      Hi Rod – thank you for your comment. I think one of the key problems with biodiversity offsetting is the social aspect both in terms of what is delivered in offsetting and where, but I will be dealing with offsetting in more detail next week.

      The continued separation of people from their environment is the cause of many of the environmental issues we now suffer. At the launch of the EMTF it was interesting to see that there were ministers present from Defra and the Department of Energy and Climate Change but no one from the Department of Business despite the fact that the Task Force was supposed to report to all three. For delivery of any of these options to work it is going to take co-ordination across Government and the support (and understanding!) of both the business community and the general populace. We need to wait for the Government’s response to the report to see how they will tackle these issues

      Frances

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