“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.
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