Businesses call for SDGs to act as a pillar for long-term environmental policy

More than 60 organisations have called on the UK Government to place the spirit and aims of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at the heart of the proposed 25 Year Environment Plan to foster natural capital valuation and increase business prosperity.

In total, 63 organisations including Heathrow Airport, BT and the Aldersgate Group convened at a WWF UK-hosted meeting today (21 February), in partnership with the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) and the Natural Capital Coalition (NCC).

The meeting saw businesses discuss the need for a formulated and coordinated introduction of the Government’s 25 Year Environment Plan. Although a consultation is yet to be published, attendees agreed that “smart” regulation that reverses environmental degradation, stimulates natural capital valuations, and leans on the aims of the SDGs would be essential in delivering low-carbon growth.

WWF’s chief executive Tanya Steele said: “Nature is central to our health, prosperity and wellbeing and we urgently need to value the crucial role nature plays in our societies and economies. The planet is in a perilous state: from coral reef bleaching through to glaciers melting, there are more and more danger signs that we are pushing our planet beyond its boundaries.

“The Government’s 25 Year Environment Plan and its recently announced Industrial Strategy provide us with a unique opportunity to formally value natural capital within UK policy. We are pleased today that business joined us to stand up for change and play their part to help transform our world and deliver a future in which people and nature thrive.”

One key theme of the meeting was the need for natural capital to act as a fundamental pillar in allowing the UK to deliver on the commitments of the Paris Agreement. A Natural Capital Protocol is in place to offer businesses a standardised framework to identify, measure and value impacts and dependencies on natural assets, but WWF remains concerned that companies are failing to address the impact of their operations on the world’s depleting stock of natural resources.

Natural progression

The businesses at today’s meeting agreed that natural capital valuations and environmental degradation risks must align with the 25 Year Environment Plan in order to reach broader global goals.

The implementation of the 25 Year Environment Plan, which will run separately from a 25 Year Food & Farming Plan, has been delayed until the intricacies of Brexit negotiations have been ironed-out. But, a recent report from the NCC states that Defra’s policy has progressed “considerably slower” than planned and that rapid improvements must be made before 2020.

The NCC’s executive director Mark Gough added: “A thriving natural world is essential for flourishing societies and prosperous economies. We’re thrilled to be able to bring together so many organisations to discuss how they can place nature at the heart of their decision making, and benefit from a clearer understanding of environmental policy in the UK and beyond.”

Businesses also agreed that the SDGs must be central to any policy developments or amendments, due to their ability to create jobs, increase competitiveness and enrich natural resources. While businesses were implored to follow the SDGs for ethical reasons, such as ending poverty, the business case for the goals has strengthened over time.  

However, a survey of 500 HR leaders across a variety of sectors found that a lack of collaboration between UK companies was hindering the uptake and the progress of the SDGs in the UK.

Matt Mace

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