Defra responds to recommendations of Natural Capital Committee

“Government will produce a 25 year plan for the natural environment”

Oct 26th 2015

Defra has announced that the Government will be producing a 25 year plan for the natural environment, in response to three reports by the Natural Capital Committee on the ‘State of Natural Capital.’ The Committee has completed the tasks set out in its terms of reference and has made a number of recommendations for further action by the Government.

Defra published its response to the recommendations last month. As well as the proposal that the Government publish a 25 year plan, the Natural Capital Committee has recommended that:

  1. The Government should assign institutional responsibility for monitoring the state of natural capital.
  2. Organisations should create a register of natural capital for which they are responsible and use this to maintain its quality and quantity.
  3. The Government should urgently step up action to ensure that the Office for National Statistics and Defra meet the target of incorporating natural capital into the national accounts by 2020.
  4. The National Infrastructure Plan should incorporate natural capital into each of the main infrastructure sectors.
  5. The Government should revise its economic appraisal guidance (Green Book) implementing the Committee’s advice.
  6. The Government should drive a substantial, long-term, interdisciplinary research programme on natural capital to inform future iterations of the strategy.
  7. The Government should determine how the plan to protect and improve natural capital is to be funded.

In response, Defra says the Government agrees with the need for a 25 year plan and intends to deliver on the commitments it has already made to protect the UK’s environmental assets, including: “putting in place a new ‘Blue Belt’ to protect precious marine habitats; spending £3 billion from the Common Agricultural Policy to enhance England’s countryside over the next five years; planting an additional 11 million trees; launching an ambitious programme of pocket parks; tackling air and water pollution; and ensuring the value of Green Belts and AONBs, National Parks, SSSIs and other environmental designations are appropriately protected.”

With regard to the Committee’s other recommendations, Defra says it agrees with four of the above, but has qualified its support for the remaining three.

On the second recommendation above, concerning registers of natural capital, Defra says whilst it agrees with the underlying premise, it “does not currently consider the approach of creating ‘registers of natural capital’ as universally applicable. However we would encourage those organisations with significant influence or dependence on land, air and water assets to consider how best they can manage these to maximise value and minimise risks. The methods explored in corporate natural capital accounting can help enhance the quality of organisational decision making in this regard.”

Defra also disagrees with the proposal for incorporating natural capital into the National Infrastructure Plan. On this proposal, Defra says: “The Government recognises the value of natural capital to the country’s long-term economic growth. We do not currently agree that an investment programme for natural capital should explicitly feature in the National Infrastructure Plan. We do, however, strive for all publicly funded infrastructure investments to make a positive contribution to protecting and enhancing our natural environment, further strengthened by expected upcoming revisions to the Green Book. For example, we are investing £300m as part of the new roads programme to deliver improvements for the local environment.”

On the last proposal above, regarding funding for the 25 year plan, Defra acknowledges that “having the appropriate funding and incentive mechanisms in place will be a determining factor in the success of the plan.” It also says that the Government “will use the concept of natural capital to help enhance decisions on how public money is invested in land and water asset management to deliver greater value and multiple benefits.” However: “investment in natural capital is not the sole responsibility of Government as the Committee highlights. We want to develop the evidence for the full range of sustainable funding opportunities that could help to underpin the plan. Natural capital accounting, for example, provides a tool that allows organisations to understand the value of assets under their control and the change in these values over time. We would encourage asset owners and managers to apply this approach to ensure that the value of these assets and their associated benefits are maintained over time.”

Defra also mentions the fact that the Government is already supporting two long-term research programmes on natural capital through its Research Councils:

  • The Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services for Sustainability Programme (£13m): “A six-year programme exploring the role of biodiversity in determining natural capital benefits. It has a specific goal to develop novel tools and indicators for tracking and measuring biodiversity and ecosystem services.”
  • The Valuing Nature Network (£6.5m): “An interdisciplinary research programme that aims to better understand and represent the complexities of the natural environment in valuation analyses and decision making and to consider the wider economic, societal and cultural value of our natural capital.”

The current Natural Capital Committee has now carried out its terms of reference, but Defra says it has decided to extend its life until at least the end of the current Parliament: “We intend to maintain the link between the Natural Capital Committee and Economic Affairs Committee, and continue to draw on the Committee’s advice when developing policy and particularly in the development and delivery of the 25 year plan. We will develop new Terms of Reference to reflect this and will consider the most appropriate form for the Committee in the light of these. We would like it to have a strong focus on building on its previous work by promoting and embedding the value of natural capital in a simple and practical way to better inform decision makers at the national, regional, local, and organisational/asset levels.”

To read Defra’s response in full, see The Government’s response to the Natural Capital Committee’s third State of Natural Capital report, available as a PDF from the GOV.UK website.

Photograph:

Creative Commons Licence
View of the Long Mynd from Wenlock Edge, Shropshire Hills AONB © Copyright Anthony Bloor and licensed for reuse under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. Defra has reiterated the government’s commitment to “ensuring the value of Green Belts and AONBs, National Parks, SSSIs and other environmental designations are appropriately protected.”

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