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"Greenest Government Ever" challenge: put nature at heart of economy

17 July 2012

The Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister must lead a programme of action to put nature at the centre of the country’s economic decision-making, says the cross-party Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee.

Launching the report of an inquiry into the Natural Environment White Paper published today, Committee Chair, Anne McIntosh MP, said

"Our natural environment supplies us not only with food and materials but also with vital services that ensure society’s well-being, such as clean air and water, soil nutrients and recreational spaces. These ecosystems services are worth billions of pounds to the UK economy and we cannot afford to let government policies ignore them." 

Ms McIntosh added

"It should not be solely the preserve of the public sector to protect and enhance nature. Significant funding can be harnessed from the private sector, for example to help prevent flooding and to provide clean water supplies. But Government must act now to set up the right regulatory frameworks to support such payments."

MPs are concerned that, more than one year on from publication of the Natural Environment White Paper, The Natural Choice, Defra has failed to set out clear plans to deliver its commitment to ensure that government decision-making fully values the services nature provides.

The report tells Cabinet Office and Treasury Ministers that they must lead a cross-Government campaign to ensure that all government policy fully  values natural capital. Government Ministers must also:

  • Publish an action plan with a timetable to deliver  each of the White Paper's 92 commitments
  • Give planners and developers guidance on how the National Planning Policy Framework can be used to protect Nature Improvement Areas.
  • Fully assess the benefits as well as the costs of environmental regulation, to prevent a perception that environmental protection imposes a drag on the UK economy.
  • Publish the Government’s response to advice from the Natural Capital Committee and require the NCC to make an annual report to Parliament.

Commenting further, Committee Chair Anne McIntosh added, 

 "We heard of some successful examples of payments for ecosystems services that reduce the need to build costly infrastructure to clean up polluted water resources such as the United Utilities project which manages 20,000 hectares of land in North West England. But there are too few examples in the UK of the use of such payments to improve the environment. The National Ecosystem Assessment provides a wealth of evidence which must now be used to help sectors develop such schemes." 

The report also concludes that: 

Biodiversity offsetting can deliver positive impacts on the natural environment but Defra must ensure that the long-term benefits from individual schemes are locked in so that habitats are maintained for the future; 

  • Peat extraction destroys irreplaceable habitats and causes greenhouse gas emissions. The White Paper’s target to end all peat use by 2030 shows a lamentable lack of ambition. A review of progress must be brought forward to 2014;
  • Defra must set a target to increase public engagement with nature, since local authorities, NGOs and charities can only secure funding for environmental projects when they can demonstrate measurable success;
  • The Department for Health and the Department for Education must define measurements which demonstrate how greater public engagement with nature delivers gains in public health and educational attainment;
  • Defra should ensure that the entire coastal path around England is in place within 10 years.

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