Natural capital adviser challenges next government

9th April 2015


The chair of the Natural Capital Committee has warned of an "enormous set back" if the next government does not put in place the body's recommendations.

Dieter Helm told the annual conference of the UK network of environmental economists that the infrastructure being planned provided an opportunity to ensure proper consideration is given to natural capital assets.

“A huge amount of concrete is going to be poured, the biggest in a generation. It should not be possible to bring forward plans for energy, water, housing etc without considering the natural capital involved,” Helm said. Natural capital should be included in the natural infrastructure plan, he added.

In its final report, published in January, the committee set out what a future government would need to do if it is to take forward the coalition’s commitment to protect and improve the environment within a generation. This included a 25-year capital investment programme of woodland planting, peatland restoration, and wetland and intertidal habitat creation as well as measures to improve urban greenspaces and air quality. Helm told the conference that most of the money to fund this action would have to come from the private sector. “Defra will not see its resources increased,” he warned.

Helm described the failure by previous governments to establish a sovereign wealth fund from North Sea oil and gas tax receipts as a 25-year example of “bad economics”, saying the money could have been used to fund the capital maintenance necessary to keep other natural capital intact. He said the government should encourage private sector owners of natural assets to invest in maintaining and improving them, and advocated the wider use of the corporate natural capital accounting framework developed by the committee.

Allan Provins, an economist and senior consultant with eftec, told the conference how the Crown Estate, National Trust, Larfarge-Tarmac and United Utilities had successfully piloted the framework, which evaluates the costs of sustaining and restoring natural assets.

Helm said the committee expects to receive a response to its proposals from the new government in September.

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