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.
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:
- Biodiversity Offsetting: securing net gain for nature from planning and development
- Closing the loop: anaerobic digestion and bioenergy on farms
- Local woodfuel supply chains: active sustainable management supporting local economies
- Nature-based certification and labelling: connecting consumers with nature
- 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