Natural values and the value of nature

“Nature underpins our economy and is central to our wellbeing.”

Not the words of a green organisation but those of the Government’s independent advisory body on the state of natural capital, the Natural Capital Committee (NCC). Launching their second State of Natural Capital report yesterday, the Committee had three key messages:

  • Some assets are currently not being used sustainably. The benefits we derive from them are at risk, which has significant economic implications;
  • There are substantial economic benefits to be gained from maintaining and improving natural assets. The benefits will be maximised if their full value is incorporated into decision-making; and
  • A long-term plan is necessary to maintain and improve natural capital, thereby delivering wellbeing and economic growth.
The Somerset Levels have been flooded for several weeks (BBC/Reuters)

The Somerset Levels have been flooded for several weeks (BBC/Reuters)

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.

Last year’s first annual report was very dry and technical, an analysis of why natural capital is important, what are the risks in unsustainable use and how to develop an assessment technique. This second report is very different with some firm recommendations for action including gathering knowledge to fill the information gaps and monitoring use patterns to ensure sustainability.

I know that there is a lot of concern about the whole process of “valuing” nature and this was one of the questions asked at the launch of the report last night. The Committee were very keen to explain that the first section of the report was about understanding the risk of using our renewable natural capital – air, water, wildlife – unsustainably and what that could mean to overall wellbeing. It is only after this risk analysis has been done that you can look at putting a value on natural assets.

The case for the benefits of integrating natural capital into decision-making is in part made through the use of a case study on trees; looking at the multiple benefits of trees – air quality, urban heat impacts, water quantity, wildlife – analysing spatial components and then using economic analysis to look at how you could improve the use of public money to achieve these multiple aims.

But the big recommendation that I took away from the launch is that of a 25 year plan to maintain and improve natural capital. As the Committee says:

“The Committee’s work to date indicates that the manner in which England’s natural capital is managed is likely to have significant consequences for the economy and future wellbeing. 

A new approach is needed if the decline of England’s natural capital is to be stopped and reversed……… We should acknowledge that the current, not joined-up, approach to policy on the natural environment to date has not worked effectively and is not cost-efficient. Ambitious action is needed to put the economy on a sustainable footing within a generation. Most of our natural assets will need sustained action to restore and improve them.”

We welcome this second report and congratulate the Committee on the risk analysis undertaken which clearly shows the dangers of exploiting natural resources without understanding the consequences of such unsustainable use. We also support the Committee in its call for the development of a long term plan to manage our natural capital. But the Committee is only an advisory body to the Government, we will have to wait for the Government’s response to see if they care enough about the long-term future for the natural environment.

Frances Winder, Conservation Policy Lead

About Kaye Brennan

Senior Campaigner (Policy & Advocacy) for the Woodland Trust and Administrator, 'Woodland Matters' blog
This entry was posted in Conservation, England, Government Affairs and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Natural values and the value of nature

  1. Roderick Leslie says:

    There is a fascinating article in the Guardian today about lobbying – and the first rule is to set the agenda – talk about what you want to talk about , not what concerns possible opponents. The establishment have done quite well at this in undermining climate change science and creating the economy vs the environment argument. And far too many people assume they will get away with it and all that can be done is mitigate the damage – but is that true ? far from it, I’d say – increasingly it looks as if rather than the win (blunt economy): lose (irrational environmentalists) the government dream of, in fact what they are achieving is more like a lose-lose, which is bad for everyone.

    Starting at the very beginning, who imagined the defeat of the Government’s plans to sell off the Forestry Commission national forests ? And rather than putting the mistake right, true to lose-lose the future of the forests is still in limbo – and there are string of other big issues which in my view could, done well and thoughtfully, have been beneficial: onshore wind, GM, HS2, even biodiversity offsetting – in every case blown by a ‘profits first’ approach where aggression towards the natural environment seems to be almost a source of macho pride. I wouldn’t include fracking, which hopefully will go the same way, and the government is now in serious trouble in a head to head with the private sector – the insurance industry – directly as a result of its failure to take professional advice on development on the floodplain – and the clearly unaffordable £100m bill for the Somerset Levels must surely be a trigger for doing things differently – working with the grain of nature to manage flooding, rather than going head to head with forces which will clearly beat even our advanced civil engineering.

  2. “Fine words butter no parsnips” is a saying that should be borne in mind here. Using economics terms to describe the value of nature is dangerous and inappropriate as it implies that it is an asset that can be ‘drawn down’ when required and can be replaced later – that it is our to control or exploit as we wish. With ancient woodland in particular, this is simply not the case – once it is destroyed, no amount of tree planting can replace it. I’m currently reading Jules Pretty’s book, ‘The Earth Only Endures’, which has some interesting facts about the value of the natural environment in other than economic terms.

  3. I wish that the government could see that the whole of creation has to be valued and given space.

  4. Derek West says:

    All these fine words fail when the term economic growth is spouted,continued economic growth and biodiversity protection are not compatible,surely this is obvious to the most abject idiot.

  5. Peter Kyte says:

    It all sounds excellent, but will the government of the day listen to their recommendations and even better act on them?

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