A wave of outrage should have greeted the publication of The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) report at the end of last year, with a resolve to recognise the true value of the natural environment to all our lives. Instead it seems to have barely made a ripple. As the Ecologist reported this week, biodiversity is invisible in the current economic model. Intuitively we know that the natural environment is important, but the conversion of that into £’s – even accepting some of the notes of caution over its valuation- should alert Government to the need to factor it into economic recovery.
Not surprisingly trees and forests feature prominently in the report. For instance halving the rate of global deforestation by 2030 would reduce greenhouse gas emissions, thereby avoiding damages from climate change estimated at more than £2.3 trillion. This is without adding in the economic contribution of forests to climate and water regulation, supporting pollination and supplying food, fibre and fuel.
The report focuses overwhelmingly on tropical forests, but the role of trees and woods in the UK should not be underestimated. Our own trees and woods have a vital role in climate change adaptation, mitigating urban heat island effect, regulating water flows and reducing flood risk, supporting productive agriculture, and supplying timber and woodfuel for energy.
The publication of the Natural Environment White Paper, expected this spring, will be an opportunity to recognise the value of the natural environment across all areas of Government policy. The preoccupation with economic recovery is understandable, but the long term health of the economy can only be achieved if the natural environment is healthy and resilient. And as we suggested in a recent post about food security, trees, woodland and other natural habitats and resources should not be seen as luxuries to be balanced against the needs of people, but rather as vital in securing them.
The current rate of tree planting and woodland creation in the UK is woefully short of that needed – indeed it is open to question whether forest loss is not outstripping woodland creation.
This is an opportunity for Government to make clear its intention to see a marked expansion of the UK’s tree cover in both urban and rural areas. If economic recovery is at the cost of the natural environment then an opportunity to recognise its true value will have been missed.
Mike Townsend, Senior Advisor