Thursday 12 April 2012

Prosperity and Environmental Protection go hand in hand

I very much welcome the Deputy Prime Minister’s recognition that prosperity and environmental protection can go hand in hand.

In a speech made on 11th April Nick Clegg stated that: ‘the environment contributes to our economy in a range of ways, many we don't always appreciate’ and that ‘lean times can be green times’.

His comments, made at the KPMG headquarters, come following a Government review of the EU Habitats Regulations, which concluded they are not a burden on development. The final National Planning Policy Framework, which it was feared would put the needs of development ahead of the natural environment, also showed more of a balance between the economy and the environment. I mentioned the thawing of both of these concerns back in my blog of 30th March, but the Deputy Prime Minister has gone further by clearly destroying the myth that the environment has to be put to one side while we dabble with economic concerns.

The Deputy Prime Minister’s speech is a welcome sign that the Government is moving away from the damaging rhetoric that preceded the budget, which suggested that protecting the environment is at odds with economic growth. Protection of the natural environment is not only compatible with increasing prosperity, but the services healthy ecosystems provide are vital to underpinning a healthy economy.

Indeed I would go further than the Deputy Prime Minister has – the world is moving on quickly and politicians are having trouble keeping up. It is not so much recognising that growth can be green; more that growth must be green. If not then it is not growth at all – the choice is between green growth or no growth. Bearing this in mind, there are signs that we are moving in the right direction – Nick Clegg mentions energy efficiency and low carbon industry for instance. Very good, but these are perhaps the areas where we should already be far more advanced. Far more difficult problems to address will be how to truly reflect the value of nature in all our decision making. The value of pollinating insects, for instance, was mentioned by Nick Clegg – perhaps worth about £1.8bn as the value of pollinating crops. But this is only the tiny tip of the ice berg in terms of all the services that nature provides for us for free. £1.8bn may sound a lot but is a poor approximation of infinity against the cost of ecosystem collapse if we really were to loose our pollinating insects.

I look forward to the Deputy Prime Minister’s promised statements on Natural Capital in the coming months. I urge him to grapple fully with the key messages that came out of the National Ecosystem Assessment and to drive forward the ambitions in the Natural Environment White Paper. The Government must put the recovery of the natural environment at the heart of any plans for economic recovery.

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