Natural Capital Committee: Environment Bill updates must stop businesses destroying nature

The UK Government must "urgently" help large businesses to value the natural resources in their value chains and to promote conservation and restoration at scale, the Natural Capital Committee (NCC) has concluded.

The NCC claims that the state of nature in the UK has not improved since 2011

The NCC claims that the state of nature in the UK has not improved since 2011

The Committee, which was founded in 2012 and works as an independent advisor to Defra, published its ‘end of term report’ today. The document summarises the Committee’s successes in informing key policy frameworks and makes recommendations for further action as the Environment Bill returns to Parliament.

On the latter, the report recommends that Defra and BEIS collaborate to “urgently” take forward the template the Committee has developed to help corporates begin assessing and minimising their natural capital impacts. Natural capital accounting assigns a monetary value to natural resources like forests and healthy soil, allowing businesses to calculate the “true cost” of their decisions.

The two departments could standardise and scale-up nature-related disclosures by undertaking this process, the report states. It recommends that ministers engage with the Taskforce for Nature-Related Disclosures (TFND) and its members to understand best-practice. The TFND is due to publish its framework in 2021, building on previous research by the UK and Swiss governments and by WWF and Global Canopy. Accounting and reporting bodies should also be involved, the NCC recommends.

Also included in the report is a call for Defra to replace the ‘biodiversity net-gain’ requirements currently placed on some sectors, including housebuilding, to be expanded to ‘environmental net gain’. This broader scope will help businesses avoid unintended negative consequences and to ensure that their positive impact lasts.

More broadly, the report urges Defra to accelerate its work to enshrine legally binding interim targets on nature in the Environment Bill. The Department has confirmed that the Bill will include statutory targets on air pollution, water and biodiversity when it returns to Parliament – but the Bill has now been absent for more than 200 days.

The NCC also wants Defra to avoid any further delays to its efforts to apply its “public money for public goods” approach to natural resources. Farmers will be rewarded financially for work to improve air and water quality; boost soil health; implement flood mitigation and adaptation measures; improve access to the countryside or bolster animal welfare under the Agriculture Bill. Like most environment-related policy packages, the Bill has faced delays due to Covid-19.

Without taking these actions, the Government risks failing to deliver on its promise to improve the environment for the next generation, the NCC has warned. The body claims that the state of nature in the UK has not improved since 2011.

“This is a pivotal moment - with the Environment Bill to return imminently return to Parliament, the Government has a once in a generation opportunity to transform our environment,” NCC chair Dieter Helm said. “The Environment Bill must deliver the required changes, otherwise there is a real danger that this opportunity to legislate for improving England’s natural environment and realise the huge economic opportunities that this presents will be lost.”

A recent survey of 244 sustainability and energy professionals by edie found that this Bill is the top policy priority.

Business benefits

In related news, ecological planning consultancy EPR Ltd has this week published a new report outlining the business benefits landowners can reap by rising to the scale of the nature crisis. The report warns that there is “no benefit to be had” in waiting for the finalised Environment Bill – or until 2024 for the Environmental Land Management Scheme to launch – for estate-based businesses.

According to the report, landowners could potentially earn £50,000, by 2030, for each hectare of degraded farmland they convert to woodland. Additional revenues can be generated by allowing public access and setting up facilities for walkers, it states. Similarly, landowners could generate biodiversity benefits worth £219,000 by 2050 for every kilometre of hedgerow they plant.

The report also speculates that the Government could pay landowners for services like nitrogen reduction and carbon sequestration under the Agriculture Bill. In the Solent catchment, for example, the reward for nitrogen reduction could reach £2,000 per kilogram in the near future.

For those in the leisure industry, the report charts the growing demand for eco-friendly tourism and experiences and the risks which nature loss poses to key locations. It cites Booking.com’s sustainable travel report, which found that almost nine in ten travellers want to travel sustainably and are willing to pay more to do so. Mintel’s most recent caravanning and camping report is also cited; it found that half of caravan holidaymakers choose this option to be closer to nature.

“Innovative individuals and businesses, supported by increasingly favourable public sentiment, have responded to the UK’s environmental crisis by recognising the capacity of their land to deliver a wide range of benefits, including carbon capture, flood control, pollution reduction and biodiversity restoration,” EPR Ltd’s director Karen Colebourn said.

“However, in the absence of promised legislation, these businesses require both financial and ecological support to bring their bold proposals to drive biodiversity recovery to life.”

Members of the APPG for the Environment and Green Alliance will be speaking to Defra’s George Eustice this evening (2 November) to ask key questions about the return of the Environment Bill to Parliament.

Sarah George



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