Bridging the gap: Natural Capital Committee 25 YEP recommendations

Built Environment, Management & Regulation, Natural Environment

Bridging the gap: Natural Capital Committee 25 YEP recommendations

Established in 2012, the Natural Capital Committee provides independent advice to the Government on how to achieve its ambition to “be the first generation to leave the natural environment of England in a better state than it inherited it”. The Committee’s most recent thinking is presented in its State of Natural Capital Report, published last week. Here’s what you need to know:

“There is much work to do to turn good intentions into definite results.”

Although the Committee recognises the recent step up in policy action, they highlight the inescapable point that since the 2011 Natural Environment White Paper delivery has lagged far behind ambition. To reverse declines in natural capital and bridge the gap between ambition and delivery the Committee called for more action, providing plenty of recommendations.

“The government should establish strong statutory underpinnings for the 25 YEP through the Environment Bill”

To give the 25 Year Environment Plan an official status, the Committee have called for the ten overarching goals to be put on a statutory footing. To supplement this they’ve also called for the Bill to include five-year milestones, principles, and robust indicators and metrics. However, the Committee aren’t fans of the current metric proposals, viewing emphasis on the state of natural capital assets and their networks as inadequate.

“A set of principles needs to be applied to the decisions we all take.”

The Committee felt that the Environment Bill includes too many overlapping principles and recommended just three for driving delivery of the 25 YEP:

  • public money for public goods
  • the polluter pays, and
  • net environmental gain.

It goes without saying that these principles then need to be consistently applied across the public sector.

“There should be a clear focus on identifying priority investments for enhancing natural capital.”

Previous Natural Capital Committee reports have highlighted that returns from investment in natural capital and environmental improvement can outstrip other investments. However decision making hasn’t adequately reflected this. The Committee wants all departments to embed natural capital thinking into their decision making and has called for improvements in access to valuation evidence to support this.

The report recognises good progress already made in developing natural capital accounts and updating the Green Book, but highlights other areas where improvement is needed, including infrastructure;

“all publicly funded infrastructure projects and programmes, infrastructure providers and public bodies should be required to analyse their impacts on and have regard to all the 25 YEP goals. Where negative impacts are likely, net environmental gain compensation should be required.”

We support this approach and have included it in our response to Defra’s net gain consultation.

“a lead body should be designated, and given responsibility for overseeing the delivery of the Plan and its ten goals.”

To allow enforcement, the Committee argue that responsibility for delivery needs to be allocated and state that this should sit with the Office for Environmental Protection proposed in the Environment Bill. In developing this role the Committee do not envisage adding an extra layer on top of the existing regulatory and delivery framework but a new institutional landscape.

The Committee haven’t included detailed proposals but in streamlining the system it’ll be essential that existing expertise is retained and that the task of any major restructure doesn’t just push delivery further down the road… the track record here is not one to inspire confidence.

Of course even the most efficient framework won’t be able to deliver unless it’s adequately resourced, which brings us on to cold hard cash.

“It is not enough to will the ends: the means have to be provided to achieve them”

Ambition can rarely be met without adequate funding- which Treasury is usually reluctant to commit to! Recognising this, the Committee state that the next Spending Review must fully consider: the shift in focus of agricultural subsidies from areas basis to public goods, resources delivery bodies need, and natural capital benefits assessments in identifying areas for investment.

“the NCC proposes that there be a five yearly environment census”

How will we know if the investment has been worth it? A combination of improved environmental valuation information, as above, and measurement of natural capital stocks. The Committee propose that the first census should be completed in 2020, to provide a baseline from which to measure (hopefully, lots of) success.

To summarise, my take home messages from the Natural Capital Committee’s report are:

  • Delivery has a long way to go to catch up with ambition.
  • We need 3 principles included in the Environment Bill, and embedded in to all Government departments’ thinking, to deliver the 25 YEP: public money for public goods, the polluter pays, and net environmental gain.
  • We need improved access to valuation data to support departments to embed natural capital thinking into their decision making.
  • The Committee has recommended that the Office for Environmental Protection be given responsibility for overseeing the delivery of the Plan and its ten goals.
  • Treasury needs to commit funding to match and deliver the 25 YEP ambition.
  • We need a five yearly environment census to monitor what impact policies are having.

If you want to look at the rest of the Committee’s recommendations, you can access the full report here.

Written by Sarah Anderton, 04/02/2019

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