Natural capital in a state?

Image: WTPL/Steven KindI may have mentioned this before but I am a geek and sometimes I think I fall into my deep green silo not realising that I have left most of the population behind! This thought was the result of questioning why I found today’s launch of the State of Natural Capital report slightly disappointing. I think that I am forgetting that the document is aimed at economists and politicians rather than weirdo specialists like me.

The Natural Capital Committee (NCC) was formed in response to commitments the Coalition set out in the Natural Environment White Paper in July 2011:

Capturing the value of nature in our nation’s account…

35 We will put natural capital at the heart of Government accounting. We will work with the Office of National Statistics to fully include natural capital in the UK Environmental Accounts, with early changes by 2013. In 2012 we will publish a roadmap for further improvements up to 2020.

36 The Government will establish an independent Natural Capital Committee reporting to the Economic Affairs Cabinet Committee which is chaired by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The Committee will advise the Government on the state of English natural capital.

37 To support the initial work of the Natural Capital Committee, the Government will take forward a scoping study in 2011 for a natural capital asset check.

The important part of these recommendations is that the Natural Capital Committee will report to the Economic Affairs Committee and thus the Chancellor of the Exchequer, rather than to Defra.

Established in May 2012 as an independent advisory body to Government, the NCC’s role is to:

  • help the Government better understand how the state of the natural environment affects the performance of the economy and individual wellbeing in England; and
  • advise the Government on how to ensure England’s “natural wealth” is managed efficiently and sustainably, thereby unlocking opportunities for sustained prosperity and wellbeing.

Part of this process is the production of an annual State of Natural Capital report, hence today’s launch.

But the report is not an analysis of the state of natural capital; rather it is an analysis of why natural capital is important, what are the risks in unsustainable use and how to develop an assessment technique. This is not to say that the analysis that is presented is not good;

“The evidence that exists indicates we are failing to conserve our natural capital assets and invest in them adequately. In many cases we are increasingly demanding more from them while at the same time eroding their capacity to deliver. The risk is that rather than underpinning future growth and prosperity, degraded natural capital assets will act as a break on progress and development.”

“There is no inherent incompatibility between preserving and enhancing natural capital and economic growth, as long as growth is properly measured.”

In fact from a green point of view there is loads in this report that is really good, but I suppose I already knew most of this, as do Defra and the environment sector. I had hoped that this report would be much more definitive rather than descriptive, identifying on the ground actions. But the wider audience does not see the correlation between natural capital and a thriving economy, nature remains either a “nice to do” activity or a threat. This document is a key step in the direction of showing the interdependence between the environment and economic sustainability to a frequently negative and disbelieving audience.

The NCC has only been in the job for a short time and in that time one of their key findings has been the lack of evidence and information. The executive summary identifies a clear set of recommendations and the final section sets out the next steps to developing a framework for measuring and valuing natural capital. There is much more to come from the NCC

Frances Winder, Conservation Policy Officer


About Kay Haw

Assistant Conservation Adviser, Woodland Trust. Nature is my passion, especially woods and trees which are just amazing elements of life. One day (soon) I hope we humans learn to work in harmony with Mother Earth.
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4 Responses to Natural capital in a state?

  1. Pingback: Natural values and the value of nature | Woodland Matters

  2. Rod Leslie says:

    I must say I do rather agree with you, Kay. I was pleased locally based wood energy made the cut, but at the same time this sort of conclusion was rather below the sort of level I was hoping for.

    Something we should perhaps develop is the concept of ‘critical natural capital’ which I feel really focusses the mind on the most important – and in particular really points up the specialness of ancient woodlands.

    Critical natural capital is natural capital that because of its specialness & irreplacibility is specific to its site & ecology: there is no better example than ancient woodland. You cannot move & reproduce ancient woodland – it only works as it is, on the site it has occupied for hundreds/thousands of years. A plantation is also ‘natural capital’ but it is not ‘critical’ because you can move or reproduce it without significant loss of value – so you don’t lose much if you move a conifer wood out of the ancient wood its been planted in onto land of comparable or lower natural capital value – such as most intensive farmland, brownfield etc.

  3. Peter Kyte says:

    Financial exploitation may not necessarily be bad, providing it is done in such a way that the status quo is maintained, ie no more is taken away than is replaced. True sustainability in other words. If that happens then nature may well be better protected.

  4. I think the recognition that there is such a thing as natural capital is good – I hope the downside is not that this capital will, therefore, be assumed to be available for financial exploitation.

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