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

2  Strategic direction of the White Paper

Genesis of the White Paper

3. The core policies of the Natural Environment White Paper (NEWP) reflect the Government's belief that it is important to manage ecosystems in a more integrated fashion to achieve a wider range of services and benefits.[5] The NEWP builds on the UK National Ecosystem Assessment (NEA), published in June 2011.[6] The NEA contains a wealth of scientific evidence on the state of the UK's natural environment and provides an overarching assessment of the benefits that nature provides to the UK.[7] The Assessment found that societal changes including population growth, increased living standards, technological developments and globalised consumption patterns had reduced some ecosystems' ability to deliver some services. Of the range of services delivered in UK's eight aquatic and terrestrial habitat types, about 30% are in decline.[8]

4. Figure 1 below shows the decline between 1970 and 2009 in farmland bird populations—one of the key indicators of the health of UK ecosystems.Figure 1: The UK Farmland Bird Index 1970-2009, calculated on data from 19 individual farmland bird species

Source: UK National Ecosystem Assessment, Synthesis of the Key Findings, p 8, figure 3

5. The NEA sets out a new way of estimating national wealth intended to take fully into account the value of natural resources. Central to both the NEWP and the NEA is the idea that both national and individual wealth is dependent on the environment, not only for the supply of food and raw materials, but also for the provision of vital underpinning services such as purifying air and water, breaking down wastes and maintaining the climate. The environment also provides recreation and health benefits to society. Figure 2 demonstrates the conceptual framework for the NEA showing the links between ecosystems, the services they provide, valuation of those services and impacts on human well-being.

Figure 2: Conceptual framework for the UK National Ecosystem Assessment

Source: UK National Ecosystem Assessment, Synthesis of the Key Findings, p 15, figure 9

Key aims of the White Paper

6. The NEA notes that many of the benefits provided by ecosystems are not reflected in market prices. For example clean and regular water supplies, climate regulation and outdoor recreation are not priced with regard to ecosystems.[9] However, the Assessment notes that it is "easy to demonstrate" that the services of the natural world underpin billions of pounds of economic activity. Examples of UK annual values include:

  • £350 million for fish landings;
  • £430 million for biodiversity pollination services;
  • river-water quality improvements worth up to £1 billion; and
  • net carbon sequestration by woodland worth some £680 million.

In addition there are over three billion recreational visits to the countryside generating a social value in excess of £10 billion each year. In contrast, there are significant costs to the economy from activities which deplete ecosystems services, such as average annual costs of flooding of some £1.4 billion. Under extreme climate change scenarios these annual costs could rise to some £20 billion by 2060.[10]

7. Drawing on the NEA's analysis, the NEWP identified a need to recognise the value of nature across society, including by encouraging greater local action to protect and improve nature. The White Paper also aims to create a green economy in which economic growth and the health of natural resources sustain each other and in which markets, business and government better reflect the value of nature.[11]

8. The NEWP contains 92 specific actions and sets out a range of policy levers to achieve its broad aims, including proposals based on regulation, on incentives and on markets for ecosystems services. Defra's Minister for Natural Environment and Fisheries, Richard Benyon, told us that the NEWP was an "ambitious" paper comprising a "framework document of how we envisage valuing and enhancing nature way into the future".[12] The fledgling concept of developing markets for the services delivered by the natural environment is perhaps the most innovative and bold aspect of the NEWP and one which we consider in further detail later in this report.

Response to main themes in the White Paper

9. Most of our evidence supported the overall aims of the NEWP, particularly its aim to secure the value of nature in decision-making and its ambition to widen the public's engagement with the natural environment. Leading experts on ecosystems services welcomed the NEWP's publication. For example, Pavan Sukhdev, project leader for The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEBB),[13] told us that he was "delighted" since the NEWP "met the need to map ecosystems services and attempt to put values on them".[14] He added that the UK was "within a few years of actually creating natural capital adjustments to be reflected in national accounts".[15] Chris Knight, from PricewaterhouseCoopers, told us that his organisation "strongly welcomed" the NEWP for its consistency with the private sector's ecosystems services work and for putting the UK "within the dozen leading countries in the world" on this issue.[16]

10. The farming sector also welcomed the aims of the NEWP. It understood the perception that there was a tension between securing food production and maximising environmental benefits, but did not consider this to be insurmountable. The National Farmers' Union told us that it was pleased that the NEWP recognised the "important role that farmers play as managers and stewards of the countryside alongside their vital role in achieving society's ambitions to produce food and to protect water, wildlife and soil".[17] NGOs added their support, with the National Trust for example endorsing the "repositioning of nature as central to economic prosperity and people's quality of life".[18]

11. Industrial organisations told us about the economic opportunities that the White Paper's approaches might bring to their sectors. For example, Balfour Beatty told us that it saw the sustainability agenda as an "opportunity to grow our business in the green economy" provided that more sustainable outcomes were valued by customers, "including local and national government".[19] However, some industrial sector witnesses were not convinced of the appropriateness of using the ecosystems approach with, for example, the Association of Electricity Producers considering there to be no evidence from other countries that it was currently a "viable basis for general regulatory or business decision-making".[20]

12. A small number of commentators criticised the NEA and the NEWP for placing a "price on everything and a value on nothing," arguing that intrinsic values of nature would not be considered.[21] The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) told us that it was important that "nature be valued in its own right".[22] Other witnesses were concerned about the impact of market approaches on the ability to protect the natural environment. For example, the Food Ethics Council told us that applying economics to natural services at worst perpetuated the dangerous conceit that markets would respect nature because of the value which had been placed on it.[23] However, such views were very much in the minority.

13. We recognise that both economic and intrinsic values need to be taken into account in valuing the full benefits that nature brings to society. We welcome the White Paper's ambitious aim of reflecting the value of natural capital in government policy-making and thus providing a more comprehensive set of data on which to conduct proper cost-benefit analyses. We further endorse attempts to apply new tools such as ecosystems services valuations to policy evaluation. We welcome in particular the White Paper's recognition that protection and enhancement of the natural environment delivers economic as well as environmental and social benefits.

14. We finished taking evidence before Defra published the final report of the Independent Panel on Forestry in July. The Panel recommended that "society as a whole value woodlands for the full range of benefits they bring" and called on the Government to "pioneer a new approach to valuing and rewarding the management, improvement and expansion of the woodland ecosystems for all the benefits they provide to people, nature and the green economy". [24] We endorse this view. Defra should accept the Independent Panel on Forestry's recommendation on valuing services provided by woodlands such that forest management which provides a range of ecosystem benefits is rewarded.

5   NEWP p 7, para 1.7 Back

6   Living with Environmental Change, UK National Ecosystem Assessment: Understanding Nature's Value to Society, Synthesis of the Key Findings, June 2011 (Referred to in this report as 'NEA ' or 'UKNEA') Back

7   NEWP p 7, para 1.4  Back

8   NEWP p 7, para 1.6 Back

9   NEA synthesis report p 42 Back

10   UK National Ecosystem Assessment, Human Well-being: Economic Values from Ecosystems, Chapter 22, pp 1068-9 Back

11   NEWP p 3, para 3 Back

12   Q 269 Back

13   The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) project was established following a meeting of G8+5 Environment Ministers in 2007 which agreed to "initiate the process of analysing the global economic benefit of biological diversity, the costs of the loss of biodiversity and the failure to take protective measures versus the costs of effective conservation." Back

14   Q 2 Back

15   Q 47 Back

16   Q 3 Back

17   Ev 98  Back

18   Q 10, Ellie Robinson Back

19   Ev 121  Back

20   Ev w87 Back

21   Infochange website Back

22   Ev 87  Back

23   Ev w15  Back

24   Independent Panel on Forestry, Final Report, July 2012, p 7 Back

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Prepared 17 July 2012