Natural Capital and a Greener Budget

Yesterday, WWF-UK launched a new report: ‘A Greener Budget: sustaining our prosperity in a changing world’, the second in a series of WWF publications in the lead up to the spring budget announcement by HM Treasury.

By Jackie Caine, Policy Manager

The report sets out practical actions for the next budget to enable the UK to move to a sustainable, resource efficient, low-carbon economy. Karen Ellis, Chief Advisor in Economics and Development at WWF-UK said this was something the Treasury should want on economic grounds alone – a healthy natural world is the foundation of a healthy economy, and is vital for the UK to remain competitive in a resource constrained environment.

WWF state that despite Government’s long term aspirations for a sustainable economy, its immediate policy decisions are misaligned – for instance, Government recently decided not to include a long-term investment strategy for natural capital in the National Infrastructure Plan, and has introduced a number of policy measures that make it more difficult for the UK to meet its climate change targets.  They call for a restructuring of economic policy so that it promotes investment in the natural asset base.

The promotion, protection and improvement of our natural capital is a focal point of the report.  Mary Creagh MP, the recently appointed chair of the Environmental Audit Committee spoke about the importance of incorporating natural capital within every government department. She said that the single departmental plans  published this month  lack ‘SMART’ objectives, and agrees with the National Audit Office that there needs to be an ownership of responsibility when it comes to sustainability within government; we should be able to measure progress and ‘doggedly hold people to account’. The Committee’s inquiry on Sustainability and HM Treasury will explore this further, and Creagh encouraged businesses and the finance sector to respond to this inquiry.

Dieter Helm, Chair of the Natural Capital Committee (NCC), now in its second manifestation spoke about how natural capital is a ‘hard concept’ that needs measureable thresholds and limits – it is not a woolly term like sustainability. He said the robust science that Georgina Mace and previous NCI Chair Rosie Hails brought to the last NCC was a vital part of ensuring the committee’s work has science at its heart.

The new Natural Capital Committee will maintain its independence and run for five years, providing some continuity in the next government. Georgina Mace will again join the committee, alongside Kathy Willis, Director of Science at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew; Colin Mayer, Professor of Management Studies, Saïd Business School at the University of Oxford; Diane Coyle, Professor of Economics at the University of Manchester; Ian Bateman, Professor and Director of the Centre for Social and Economic Research on the Global Environment (CSERGE) and Paul Leinster, Professor of Environmental Assessment at Cranfield University.

The Committee will focus on practical steps, and Helm spoke about ‘templates’ of activities that will work alongside the 25 year plan for nature; these templates will cover river catchments, cities, a landscape project and a marine project.

Finally, Zoe Knight, Managing Director of the Climate Change Centre of Excellence at HSBC said that if Government were to incorporate WWF’s budget recommendations, this would signal to investors a commitment to incorporating natural capital accounting, and encourage transparency and disclosure in the business community. She said that the UK can take leadership position on natural capital accounting, and the framework we set out can be of use not only to the global economy, but for UK companies that have global reach.

See the full recommendations from the ‘A Greener Budget’, and follow the Twitter conversation from the event at #greenerbudget2016

This post was first published on the Natural Capital Initiative blog. The Natural Capital Initiative is a partnership between the BES, the Royal Society of Biology, the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology and the James Hutton Institute. Find out more.