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

7  Conclusion

103. The Natural Environment White Paper sets out a large-scale, long-term and ambitious set of aims firmly founded on scientific evidence about the importance of valuing natural services and the benefits of reconnecting people with nature, for which Defra should be commended. However, Defra cannot afford to rest on its laurels since it will need to lead the effort across government to turn these ambitions into reality. The department will also have to convince all sectors of society about the potential benefits. Delivery at local and national level will require public sector support, in terms of both finance and knowledge, but it will only be through mobilising and harnessing market forces that the full benefits can be realised.

104. There appears to be a genuine will within Defra to pursue the key elements of the NEWP but we have not been assured that effective mechanisms have been established to maintain consistent progress, particularly in other government departments. Valuing the natural environment must not be seen as an issue solely for Defra. HM Treasury and the Cabinet Office have a vital role to play in ensuring that the aims of the White Paper are fully achieved. This will require changes in process but more importantly in culture since the deadweight of a 'business as usual' approach across government is a significant barrier to overcome. We are concerned that some statements from non-Defra departments reinforce a public perception that environmental considerations represent a drag on economic development. The NEWP should be seen not only as the cornerstone of the Government's environmental programme, but also as vital for economic and social improvements.

105. We recommend that successful delivery of the Natural Environment White Paper be promoted across government, with leadership from the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, as central to the Coalition Government fulfilling its commitment to be the "greenest government ever."

106. We further recommend that the Cabinet Office Minister responsible for government policy advice, working closely with HM Treasury, oversee a cross-government campaign to raise the awareness of all who work within and with government of the value to the economy and society of the services delivered by the natural environment. This needs to go beyond the issuing of guidance and to extend its reach beyond central government department officials to business, local authorities and the third sector. The Cabinet Office must ensure that all government policy and legislation is proofed for consistency with the Government's aspirations that natural capital values are fully reflected in decision-making.

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Prepared 17 July 2012