Written evidence submitted by the Natural Capital Committee
In the oral evidence session on 12 November the Environmental Audit Committee heard that the Natural Capital Committee (NCC) has undertaken an assessment of available datasets for reporting on progress towards the 25 Year Environment Plan. The NCC found that existing datasets/monitoring programmes, including those used in Defra’s Indicator Framework, at best only provide a partial measure of several key assets and often lack England wide coverage and a common baseline collection date.
As the NCC has previously advised, it is crucial to use the right framework and metrics or risk multiple policy failures including the success of the 25 YEP, all future Environmental Improvement Plans, the delivery of Environmental Land Management schemes and environmental net gain.
The NCC has advised that if the Government is serious about its objective of leaving the environment in a better state for the next generation then it must sufficiently resource the development of a comprehensive baseline of natural capital assets against which to assess progress. The costs of establishing such a baseline are likely to be modest but should not be a barrier and in any case are negligible when set against the far more significant costs of further deterioration of our environment.
Clear reporting on the condition and extent of our natural assets is vital in order to move away from a piecemeal approach to different policy aims and interventions through which assumptions are made regarding trade-offs, to a joined up approach which strengthens the economy, wellbeing and the environment as integral parts of an interconnected system.
The economic gains from delivering this are not marginal. There are significant costs in failing to deliver this approach and government should ensure that marginal cost savings in the short term do not detract from those longer term benefits. Designing policy interventions on the basis of least cost and without undertaking robust assessments of natural capital assets is likely to result in huge inefficiencies and perverse outcomes.
As a matter of urgency, government should ensure that the proposed Natural Capital and Ecosystem Assessment (NCEA) pilot and any subsequent fully developed baseline exercise focuses on measuring the extent and condition of all natural assets across England, as per the NCC’s detailed advice – not just habitats. The NCEA should be designed in a way that minimises costs and considers environmental data needs across government. This can be done by establishing clear leadership to ensure a joined up approach in environmental asset data collection, thereby preventing the current large scale duplication and waste of public funds, as well as utilising new technologies and citizen science. These steps are essential if the objectives in the 25 YEP are to be met and if the OEP is to inherit a workable framework to hold government to account.