Defra unveils natural capital ‘assessment’ funding as post-Brexit green recovery shapes up

Environment Minister George Eustice has announced a new £5m Natural Capital and Ecosystem Assessment to protect the UK's environment as part of a new package of Environment Bill measures, on the same day that the Government unveiled a £16m sustainable farming package in South America.

Defra unveils natural capital ‘assessment’ funding as post-Brexit green recovery shapes up

Around 80% of the UK’s environmental laws have been forged in partnership with other nations in Europe

Eustice announced the £5m Natural Capital and Ecosystem Assessment this morning (20 July), while also hinting at future funding commitments encompassed through the UK’s Environment Bill, which aims to “leave the environment in a better state than we found it”.

The £5m funding for natural capital assessments is aimed to improve the data collection of how nature and biodiversity are used within the UK. It will be followed by a £4m two-year pilot to improve biodiversity across four urban and rural areas that have been heavily impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

Eustice also confirmed that the Government was set to “chart a new course” on environmental legislation, once the Transition Period as part of the Withdrawal Agreement comes to an end at the end of the year. This includes setting new long-term targets on key natural capital metrics, the Minister confirmed.

“In a few months’ time the Transition Period will come to an end, and the UK will be free to chart a new course. It is an important moment for policymakers and nowhere more so than in our approach to the environment,” Eustice said.

“Tackling environmental challenges requires a long-term approach and political commitment to that journey – even when the political cycle can be short term. So, we will shortly be publishing a paper that sets out our approach to setting long-term targets on biodiversity, waste, water, and air quality through the new Environment Bill, so they are established in time by October 2022.”

Eustice also confirmed that the first chair of the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) would be confirmed shortly. The Office has been set up to scrutinise Government targets and progress.

Around 80% of the UK’s environmental laws have been forged in partnership with other nations in Europe, many of which would be upheld and scrutinised by the European Commission.

MPs on the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) have warned that the implementation of the Bill would lead to key national environmental policies becoming “severely downgraded” from those currently mandated by the EU. Similar concerns have been voiced by more than 40 environmental organisations including Greenpeace, WWF UK and ClientEarth, while Northern Ireland’s environmental department (DAERA) has asked for the remit of the Bill to be extended in geographical scope.

Additionally, Eustice noted that next year’s COP26 climate conference would be used to “secure international action on climate change and biodiversity loss which will include emphasising the role of nature-based solutions in that global endeavour”.

Commenting on the announcements, the Aldersgate Group’s executive director Nick Molho said: “A healthy natural environment is essential to the wellbeing of the economy and society. It is heartening to hear the Environment Secretary’s commitments to ‘redouble efforts’ to improve the state of the environment and ensure that decisions relating to or impacting on the environment must be guided by sound scientific evidence.

“First, any changes to environmental impact assessments must result in a planning system that is predictable, science-based and focused on delivering environmental improvements. Second, nature restoration projects such as wetland or peatland restoration projects must be included in future public stimulus investments. Third, rapid progress will need to be made in the Autumn to finalise the Environmental and Agriculture Bills and develop a system of ambitious targets, all of which are essential to drive long-term private investment towards environmental improvement projects.”

Amazon funding

On the subject of securing international action, Eustice’s comments arrived on the same day that the UK Government confirmed a new £16m funding package to support sustainable farming methods and replanting projects in the Amazon rainforest.

The funding will extend the Partnerships for Forests (P4F) programme, which has been set up to halt deforestation across Brazil, Colombia and Peru.

The new projects will be steered by PESCA and will work to teach farmers about rotational grazing and pasture reform to help with replanting. PESCA currently manages sustainable farmland covering 27,000 hectares of land and the Government believes the funding will restore 900 hectares of rainforest in Brazil alone.

Minister for Climate Change Lord Callanan said: “Climate change and deforestation are challenges which stretch far beyond borders, which is why we all must act to protect our planet’s biodiversity.

“Our Partnerships for Forests programme will help stop tropical deforestation, protect fragile ecosystems, build up rural communities and repair damage to the worst-affected areas.”

It brings the total UK funding provided to combatting deforestation in Latin America to £80m. In 2017, the Government set up two projects worth £62m will help tackle deforestation across Latin America by promoting sustainable new business models and sourcing practices. The funding has been set up to reduce deforestation and improve the livelihoods of some of the poorest communities in Latin America.

Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE) states that there has been a total of 72,843 fires in Brazil this year and more than 1.5 football fields of Amazon rainforest are being destroyed per minute, per day – an increase of 80% compared to the same period the year prior.

More recently – last week in fact – the Government unveiled a £24m funding pot for innovations aimed at transforming the food system, including a project using captured CO2 to manufacture animal feed, amid fresh warnings of agriculture’s links to illegal deforestation.

Among the recipients to the funding is REACT-FIRST, a project working to take the carbon captured from Drax’s biomass plant in Selby, North Yorkshire, and use it to produce feed for fish and poultry. The carbon and protein components in traditional animal feed are usually accounted for by soy or fishmeal – linked to deforestation and overfishing respectively –  and by grains, which require arable farmland and much water to produce.

The Government funding announcement comes shortly after a new analysis concluded that up to 22% of the soy and beef imported to the EU from Brazil in 2019 was produced on land that was illegally deforested.

Published in Science magazine, the report documents researchers’ findings after they used satellite-enabled software to analyse land surrounding 815,000 rural properties in Brazil’s Cerrado region – a vast tropical savannah that has been plagued by deforestation for several years.

Matt Mace

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