Environment, Food and Rural Affairs CommitteeFurther written evidence submitted by Research Councils UK (RCUK)

1. Research Councils UK (RCUK) is a strategic partnership set up to champion research supported by the seven UK Research Councils. RCUK was established in 2002 to enable the Councils to work together more effectively to enhance the overall impact and effectiveness of their research, training and innovation activities, contributing to the delivery of the Government’s objectives for science and innovation. 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 Knowledge and Innovation Group in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS).

Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).

Area 1. What actions are required across Government Departments, from local government and by civil society to deliver the White Paper’s proposals to grow a green economy and reconnect people with nature?

3. The ecosystem approach1 is currently understood by researchers and policymakers, but less so by prospective users. Action is needed on communicating and demonstrating how to use the approach in decision-making. There has been significant investment in research, as summarised in recent assessments, eg the UK National Ecosystem Assessment (UK NEA),2 The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB)3 programme; but there is a risk that investment in the engagement of public organisations and business sectors will be insufficient for adequate pull-through to successful application.

4. It is important that the Government continues to participate in the co-design, co-delivery, co-production and use of interdisciplinary research on a cross departmental basis, as exemplified by the Living With Environmental Change4 (LWEC) partnership. LWEC partners include numerous Government departments,5 in addition it has a business advisory board6 (the LWEC BAB) with charities7 involved in funding specific activities. The partnership is built on the ethos of researchers working together in partnership with users. The UK NEA and the use of the UK NEA in formulating the Natural Environment White Paper exemplifies the ability of the LWEC partnership to deliver foresight, knowledge and tools through the work of the academic and policy communities to underpin government policy.

5. Discussions of the LWEC BAB, established to provide strategic business input into LWEC programmes, have highlighted that business users require clear policy, with targets and timescales to plan investment decisions and activities. These are not clear in the White Paper at present.

Area 2. Will the institutional framework outlined for delivering the proposals (in particular Nature Improvement Areas and Local Nature Partnerships) be effective? Does the proposed Natural Capital Committee have sufficient powers?

6. No comment.

Area 3. What further research and/or evidence is required to develop practical programmes sufficiently detailed to deliver the White Paper’s ambition to fully embed the value of nature into policy delivery?

7. Practical demonstration and feasibility projects are required with users such as businesses, local authorities, environmental organisations, farmers, landowners, citizens and schools, so that they can learn how to consider and incorporate the value of nature in decision making. This will need to be accompanied by user-focussed tool-kits developed by those who understand user needs, working at the interface between scientific research and application. RCUK would be happy to facilitate this process in collaboration with other stakeholders.

8. Work on valuation needs to be conducted with businesses, local authorities and other users to allow valuation approaches to be hard-wired into existing systems for valuing assets, rather than creating additional stand-alone systems. Research and evidence is needed to support this activity, particularly with regard to identifying and developing the underpinning socio-ecological system knowledge that will enable robust monetary and non-monetary valuation to be achieved. Relevant work involving the Research Councils which is already underway includes:

the Natural Capital Initiative8 (NCI)—the NCI is a leading UK forum bringing together scientists, policy-makers, business, industry and others, to discuss how the ecosystem approach might be implemented in practice; and

the Valuing Nature Network9 (VNN)—VNN, sponsored by NERC, is supporting interdisciplinary partnerships to scope, develop and promote research capacity in the valuation of biodiversity, ecosystem services and natural resources and facilitate the integration of such approaches in policy and practice in the public and private sectors.

9. There is a danger the ecosystem approach will remain in the domain of sectors with which Defra has traditionally engaged, eg agriculture, land management and water companies, and not penetrate into others, eg building management and transport. Research needs to focus on areas of the economy and society that have a major impact on ecosystems, and these may be areas that Defra is less used to engaging with. RCUK can advise and broker discussions with relevant academics.

10. More research is required on the value of water—from an economic, social and shared social value perspective. Shared social value in particular is a new and challenging area for the government to address.

11. Data integration and accessibility are important issues. The NERC soil portal10 is an example of where Research Council supported datasets are being brought together in an accessible form for users. The Portal provides a gateway to discover, view and download large-scale soils property datasets from across NERC research centres with the ultimate aim of helping create sustainable land management solutions to prevent degradation.

12. NERC has much existing and planned research relevant to Defra’s commitments in the White Paper, through its research centres11 and directed research programmes (including LWEC accredited activities12 such as the UK NEA, Biodiversity & Ecosystem Service Sustainability programme, the VNN, the Changing Water Cycle programme, the joint DFID-NERC-ESRC-funded Ecosystem Services for Poverty Alleviation programme), and the funding these provide to unsolicited ideas from research groups, consortia or individuals..It is therefore important that Defra and NERC work together in partnership both to access and analyse evidence already available, and ensure LWEC’s principles of co-design, co-delivery and co-production are implemented in ongoing and future research.

13. NERC’s Knowledge Exchange (KE) group is committed to helping Defra develop and deliver it policy objectives and will help to broker the appropriate links between scientists and policymakers and other partners where needed. The NERC KE group is currently working with Defra to map existing evidence and activities against commitments made in the Natural Environment White Paper and to identify gaps. This builds on previous NERC-Defra collaboration to develop and deliver environmental policy on a wide range of areas. Previous areas of success include: the state of UK seas;13 drought monitoring and forecasting;14 best practice for managing peatlands15 and developing policy on environmental stewardship.16

Area 4. What evidence is there from other countries that the approaches proposed in the White Paper can be successfully applied in practice?

14. Whilst the UK is in the lead of much of the conceptual work behind ecosystem services, other European countries have been developing holistic approaches to environmental management. For example, companies such as Suez Environment based in France with a worldwide presence, including almost 80,000 employees, are taking a joined-up approach to delivering water and waste management services.

15. In the USA, the Natural Capital Project17 engages leaders in key institutions to meld world-class research and development with influential, on-the-ground conservation programs, and is developing tools that make it easier to incorporate natural capital into decisions. US scientists are also collaborating with India and China, who are increasingly making decisions on an ecosystems basis.

16. On a global level, mining companies have had to look specifically at biodiversity and conservation alongside their activities and have developed methodologies appropriate to gaining permits to mine relating to their support of ecosystem services. For example, Rio Tinto are involved in biodiversity offsetting18 by funding conservation in areas away from sites developed for mining purposes to “offset” damage caused, with benefits to the natural environment as well as Rio Tinto’s corporate image. The ESRC funded Centre for Business Relationships, Accountability, Sustainability and Society (BRASS) has done some work in this area.19

17. The Dutch approach to the environment, as exemplified by 4th National Environmental Policy Plan20 of the Netherlands and by the energy transition approach they developed into seven transition platforms21 may be a useful model to explore. In the UK this has been embodied, from a research point of view, into the Foresight22 initiative, but a more proactive approach, based on the exploration and iterative evaluation of opportunities arising from niches identified through Foresight-type initiatives could lead to the UK becoming a leader in those future markets. The Essex Energy Group23 has also been working in this area. The White Paper provides interesting opportunities here, as Nature Improvement Areas, Local Nature Partnerships and the biodiversity offsets proposed in it are all akin to niches. The Rural Economy and Land Use programme24 has also built on a similar approach and it is especially relevant here.

Area 5. What resources will be needed to fully deliver the White Paper’s ambitions and how can these best be provided? How might the value of “services” provided by ecosystems to beneficiaries be translated into spending that will enhance the natural environment?

18. Resources are required to communicate and work with organisations to help them take up the ecosystem approach. Overcoming barriers to understanding the approach and how it fits their models of operation is key.

19. Investment in the implementation of the ecosystem approach will come from businesses once the regulatory environment (with appropriate targets and incentives) is clear and the benefits of the approach are apparent. Without this, businesses as well as other organisations across sectors are unlikely to change quickly. More certainty on the introduction of environmental taxation based on careful valuation would help considerably in this area and these could substitute some of the current taxation schemes, rather than being additional.

Area 6. Does the White Paper set out an accurate assessment of the barriers to public engagement with the natural environment and make the most effective proposals for re-engagement?

20. No comment.

21 September 2011

1 http://www.parliament.uk/documents/post/postpn_377-ecosystem-approach.pdf

2 http://uknea.unep-wcmc.org/

3 http://teebweb.org/

4 http://www.lwec.org.uk/

5 http://www.lwec.org.uk/partners

6 http://www.lwec.org.uk/people/advisers

7 http://www.lwec.org.uk/activities/insect-pollinators-initiative

8 http://www.naturalcapitalinitiative.org.uk/

9 http://www.valuing-nature.net/

10 http://www.bgs.ac.uk/nercsoilportal/home.html

11 http://www.nerc.ac.uk/research/sites/research/

12 http://www.lwec.org.uk/activities

13 http://sid.nerc.ac.uk/details.aspx?id=323

14 http://sid.nerc.ac.uk/details.aspx?id=315

15 http://sid.nerc.ac.uk/details.aspx?id=232

16 http://sid.nerc.ac.uk/details.aspx?id=177

17 http://www.naturalcapitalproject.org/home04.html

18 http://www.riotinto.com/ourapproach/17214_biodiversity.asp

19 http://brass.cf.ac.uk/projects/Resource and Technology Management/resource-and-technology-management-for-

20 http://www.iea.org/textbase/pm/?mode=pm&id=575&action=detail

21 http://www.horizons.gc.ca/page.asp?pagenm=2010-0059_05

22 http://www.bis.gov.uk/foresight

23 http://www.essexenergy.ca/

24 http://www.relu.ac.uk/

Prepared 16th July 2012