Protecting nature central to UK's future

7th June 2011

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  • Business & Industry ,
  • Ecosystems ,
  • Biodiversity ,
  • Natural resources



Valuing and protecting the natural environment is to be placed at the heart of government's strategic and economic approach, according to the UK's first natural environment white paper published today (7 June 2011).

The paper commits to establishing an independent body to advise the government’s economic affairs committee on the best way to protect the environment and ensure it is considered in economic decision making.

It states that key to approach to mainstreaming the value of nature will be “creating a green economy, in which economic growth and the health of our natural resources sustain each other, and markets, business and government better reflect the value of nature.”

Businesses, individuals and communities are all encouraged to take an active role in protecting the UK’s natural resources in the paper, which draws heavily on the recently published National Ecosystems Assessment and the recommendations of the Making Space for Nature review published in October 2010.

All government departments will now have to incorporate the value of the natural environment in impact assessments on the likely affects of any proposed policies, in a move that commits the government to practicing what it preaches on sustainable development.

The paper also outlines a number of actions that will impact businesses including the promise of developing new government guidance on measuring and reporting environmental impacts and an agreed method for water footprinting.

Tackling biodiversity loss is a strong theme within the paper and the government places great emphasis on the future role of biodiversity offsetting – where an organisation can counter any negative impacts on biodiversity it causes through its operations with other conservation activities.

Plans to design a new voluntary approach to biodiversity offsetting are also outlined, with the expectation of launching a two-year pilot in spring 2012.

Launching the paper, environment secretary Caroline Spelman echoed the findings of the UK NEA published week.

“In the past we have undervalued what our natural environment gives us,” she said. “This White Paper changes that, because we cannot afford to make the same mistakes again.

“We can all gain from the economic, social, and health benefits nature gives us, but we need to recognise that if we withdraw something from ‘Mother Nature’s Bank’, we’ve got to put something back in to ensure that the environment has a healthy balance and a secure future.”
IEMA welcomed the paper as appearing to hold a comprehensive strategy for the natural environment, but warned the next step will be more difficult.

“The real challenge will be in implementing this vision,” said Martin Baxter, IEMA policy director. “The environment profession and IEMA will have an important role in ensuring that organisations are equipped with the environmental knowledge and skills to play their role in the transition to a greener, more sustainable economy. Embedding consideration of the environment into all forms of decision making will be critical.”

The paper has also been welcomed by environment groups with Helen Phillips, the chief executive of Natural England agreeing that it presents a real opportunity to change the way the country thinks about the natural environment.

“We need to think big – tackling environmental problems at a scale that can make a genuine impact and involving all sectors of society in developing solutions, from Big Society through to big business,” she said.

Meanwhile Friends of the Earth argued there was still room for improvement.

“If the government is serious about being the ‘greenest ever’, it must introduce policies right across Whitehall that help to protect nature home and abroad – such as supporting planet-friendly farming,” argued campaigner Paul de Zylva.

The White Paper is available in full from the Defra website alongside the government’s formal response to the Making Space for Nature review which was also published today (7 June 2011).


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