Environment, Food and Rural Affairs CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by Research Councils UK


1. Research Councils UK (RCUK) is a strategic partnership set up to champion the research supported by the seven UK Research Councils. Further details are available at www.rcuk.ac.uk.

2. This evidence is submitted by RCUK on behalf of the Research Councils listed below and represents their independent views. It does not include or necessarily reflect the views of the Department for Business, Innovation, and Skills.

Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).


3. RCUK welcomes the strong emphasis Defra have placed on the evidence base in developing the main thrust on the Environment White Paper “The Natural Choice: Securing the value of nature” and the continuing commitment to the Darwin initiative and the Climate fund, among other aspects.

4. The approach in the White Paper is fundamentally sound and forward thinking, providing international leadership in combining consideration of physical, social and biological natural resources. It recognises the intimate interdependence between people, biodiversity and physical natural resources that underpin many of the benefits derived from the environment.

5. RCUK notes the evidence base came from different independent sources and is pleased to see the prominent role played by (a) the UK National Ecosystem Assessment (UK NEA), developed as part of the Living With Environmental Change partnership and co funded by NERC and ESRC, and (b) the Lawton report “Making Space for Nature”. We are encouraged by the recognition that science, economics and social research have broken new ground in demonstrating that erosion of the natural environment is losing us benefits and generating costs. This research is offering new policy and other solutions to the challenges it has identified. RCUK would welcome further dialogue with Defra involving all the relevant stakeholders to ensure the impact of research is maximised as policy-makers and service providers redesign policies and services for the natural environment.

6. The activity driven by the UK NEA demonstrates the agility and flexibility of the research community. The world leading nature of the work is grounded in a thorough understanding of the current state of UK habitats, ecosystem services and trends in their status since the mid-1940s. To make ecosystem services assessments even more powerful, comprehensive and effective, it is essential that social values are included. The ESRC, NERC and Defra are in dialogue with a view to collaborating on a second stage of the NEA to address this and other important challenges.

7. The White Paper acknowledges the potential for the UK to lead internationally in policy development. What is underemphasised is that the strong position of the UK is supported by world-leading research and the role of multinational businesses in spreading best practice internationally. Research and business activities will often be the best accompaniment to international policy agreements. Overall, this represents an underemphasis on the international role of the UK

8. The way in which business supply chains function and evolve in relation to environmental challenges needs to be better understood; particularly in the context of the directions set by the White paper. This insight would help improve the efficiency of Government’s efforts to realise its environmental, economic and social ambitions. RCUK would be interested in working with the department on this.

9. The leading position of the city of London in carbon trading and insurance markets, both of which underpin the translation of environmental data and knowledge into business decision-making, is not sufficiently recognised. Recognition of financial markets needs to incorporate investment, trading and insurance if the whole financial system is to drive best practice in environmental management.

10. RCUK welcomes the commitment to establish a research programme to fill evidence gaps associated with the shift toward a sustainable approach to low-carbon energy, to meet 2050 objectives. We are keen to work with Defra through the auspices of the £500M RCUK Energy Research Programme which is addressing these issues.

11. The emphasis on bringing out and making use of the links between human health and well-being and the natural environment is one of the keys to successful implementation. The Committee might consider how proposals in the White Paper will be implemented at individual, community, regional, country and supranational levels, and what this might mean in practice for local authorities, farmers and land owners, businesses and environmental organisations amongst other stakeholders.

21 June 2011

Prepared 16th July 2012