Natural Environment White Paper - Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee Contents


Summary

The UK depends on the natural environment not only to supply food and materials but also to provide vital support services that ensure human well-being, such as processes to purify air and water, maintain the climate and breakdown wastes. These ecosystems services are worth billions of pounds to the UK economy—for example pollination provides nearly half a billion, fish landings some third of a billion and recreational visits to the countryside some ten billion pounds a year in benefits.

Defra's White Paper The Natural Choice recognises that a healthy natural environment is the foundation of sustained economic growth, prospering communities and personal wellbeing, but the Government must do more to ensure that all Whitehall departments fully value nature's benefits. This requires stronger leadership, not only from Defra but also from HM Treasury and the Cabinet, to effect the necessary culture shift amongst policy-makers. The Cabinet Office must ensure that all government policy and legislation is proofed for consistency with the Government's aspirations that the value of natural capital is fully reflected in decision-making. Successful delivery of the White Paper must be promoted across Government, with leadership from the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, as central to the Coalition Government's fulfilling its commitment to be the "greenest government ever".

It is disappointing that the White Paper's laudable aims have not been integrated into government departments' policies, including transport and planning and the Government must rectify this at the earliest opportunity. Guidance on implementing the National Planning Policy Framework must be provided to help planners and developers protect the environment in areas designated as Nature Improvement Areas. Certain Ministers have given a false impression about the impact of environmental regulation on the economy. Ministers must fully assess and communicate to the public the benefits as well as the costs of environmental regulation so as to prevent a perception that environmental protection is a drag on the economy. The Government should publish its response to advice from the Natural Capital Committee which should make an annual report to Parliament. Defra must publish an action plan drawing together the individual commitments in the White Paper setting out key indicators of success and a timetable for when these will be achieved.

The Government is unlikely to commit significant additional sums of public money to fund the up to £1 billion a year which the UK needs to ensure its ecological resilience. Defra should therefore set out how payments can flow from beneficiaries of ecosystems services, such as the supply of clean water, to those who protect and enhance these environmental systems. There are as yet few good UK examples of such schemes. The National Ecosystem Assessment's wealth of evidence must now be used to help sectors such as the water industry to develop cost-effective methods of enhancing the natural environment's ability to provide high quality water rather than building infrastructure to clean up supplies.

Biodiversity offsetting has the potential to deliver a considerable positive impact on the natural environment providing that enhancing biodiversity is the first priority. Defra must ensure that the long-term benefits from individual offset 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 of ending peat use by 2030 shows a lamentable lack of ambition and a review of progress must be brought forward to 2014.

There is some evidence that more people are reaping benefits from engaging with the natural environment but this is not the case for all groups. Defra must set a target for increasing public engagement with nature, and the Department for Health and the Department for Education must establish measurements which demonstrate the link between greater public participation in activities in the natural environment and improved health and educational attainment. Defra should reschedule efforts so that the coastal path around England is fully operational within 10 years.





 
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© Parliamentary copyright 2012
Prepared 17 July 2012