Environment, Food and Rural Affairs CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by Friends of the Earth England

1. Friends of the Earth England welcome the NEWP as early progress in the Government’s programme. Rapid development of the detail is now required to assist assessment of how NEWP ambitions and intentions will be enacted with the required political support. The detail and implementation plans will also test the support from all Whitehall departments and the quality of the Government’s involvement of and support for civil society organisations.

2. The NEWP displays renewed enthusiasm for and understanding of the critical underpinning provided by nature to a healthy, vibrant, resilient and sustainable society and economy. Landscape scale planning, the role of natural networks and better accounting for nature in decisions can lead to a transformation of nature’s chances although other than considering its own procurement and estate management the NEWP offers little insight to how government as a whole will function. To be a lasting policy NEWP must attract ongoing political attention and avoid the trend for good intentions to be undermined by contradictory policies promoted by the rest of Whitehall.

3. The NEWP draws on biodiversity offsetting, as an attempt to make up for damage, and valuation of nature, to raise policy makers’ appreciation of nature’s costs and benefits. The complex, difficult-to-measure and non-interchangeable characteristics of biodiversity make it difficult, if not impossible to trade, or offset, whether in a UK or global context. There is no substitute for political leadership and the use of any new tools should not be a replacement for consistent action to protect and improve our natural environment.

4. We welcome NEWP recognition that the UK’s reliance on commodities such as palm oil, cotton and soy has significant impacts on biodiversity overseas. Beyond this there are no firm commitments to address those impacts relying instead on voluntary business action. The Government could reduce the livestock industry’s use of soy in animal feed by supporting home grown feed production; opportunities are available through CAP reform and would be in line with NEWP commitments to show “environmental leadership” internationally (page 59) and within Europe (page 63, para 5.19). CAP reform will require better support for sustainable livestock production, and shift to supporting more home grown feedstock, linked to mandatory environmental standards.

5. The Government’s localism, planning and growth agendas are unknown quantities for NEWP delivery. Much of the language to date, notably at and since the March 2011 Budget, has focussed on aligning public policy to “pro-growth” policies of indeterminate quality and quantity and no sense of how they advance genuine sustainable development. Nature and economy are being treated separately for example with the formation of both Local Nature Partnerships (LNPs) and Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) which, if the past is a guide, may see NEWP aims playing second fiddle to LEP/Regional Growth Fund bids. Without dramatic shifts in political understanding there is every chance that “going for growth” will entrench environmental damage and replicate the form of development patterns and behaviours which have contributed to the environmental decline the NEWP seeks to address.

20 June 2011

Prepared 16th July 2012