The latest report from the Natural Capital Committee (NCC) states that Defra’s Plan has progressed “considerably slower” than hopes and expectations. The strategy must advance rapidly if there are to be “demonstrable improvements” in England’s natural capital before 2020, the Committee insists.

The group has also called for legal status to be placed upon the 25-Year Plan to increase its bearing on public policy. A white paper which lays the groundwork for legislation should be prepared this year, the NCC says.

NCC chair professor Dieter Helm said: “The next two years will determine whether observed declines in natural capital are being reversed and whether the great benefits from enhancing our natural capital to people and businesses are realised.

“To fail to grasp these opportunities is to condemn us to a lower sustainable economic growth rate. Enhancing natural capital through the 25 Year Environment Plan makes good practical economic sense.”

‘Great opportunity’

The NCC report acknowledges that the role of Brexit in the Plan’s delay, but insists that the decision to leave the European Union (EU) provides a “great opportunity” to embed strong and ambitious environmental objectives into UK law.

The Committee sets out 16 recommendations to assist with the Plan’s implementation. Among these proposals include a call for leadership to be taken by a specific governing institution, quantifiable and measurable targets to evaluate progress, and consistency with the Climate Change Committee’s decarbonisation guidance.

Private investment in natural capital will be required to deliver the Plan’s ambition, according to the NCC, which urges the Government to actively promote corporate natural capital valuation, accounting and reporting.

This is the first annual report of the NCC’s second term since it was re-established in 2016 with a mandate to advice the Government on the development of the 25-Year Plan. The group will shortly publish a “How to Do It” guide for public and private actors to account for and value natural capital.

WWF-UK chief adviser on economics and development Karen Ellis commented: “The Plan gives us a chance to reverse decades of decline by improving the environment for our own benefit and future generations.

“But for the Plan to succeed, it must be designed right – it must set ambitious, measurable goals, and a legally enforceable action plan to deliver these, involve all Government departments in the delivery of the plan, provide sufficient investment to achieve these targets, and include a goal measuring the UK’s impacts on the environment abroad through the products we import.”

Capital strategy?

The NCC report follows on from the Government’s own climate change risk assessment released last week, which highlighted the need to ramp up national efforts on natural capital over the next five years. The findings of that report will inform the considerations in the 25-Year Plan.

In October, Defra Secretary Andrea Leadsom confirmed that the framework for the Plan would be launched “within the next few months”, after admitting that two-thirds of environmental regulations “won’t be easy to transpose” post-Brexit.

Whatever the outcome of Brexit negotations, the financial benefits of taking natural capital into account are huge: technical services firm AECOM recently stated that UK firms are missing out on a £7bn windfall by ignoring natural capital initiatives. 

But speaking to edie recently, Hutchings insisted that the majority of businesses are critically failing to address the impact of their operations on the world’s depleting stock of natural resources.

George Ogleby

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