Let’s embrace the many values of nature in the UK’s 25 Year Plan
It’s not just chocolate eggs and hot cross buns – Easter’s about springtime and rebirth. Life comes back to our soils and our wildlife as seeds germinate and rabbits scamper across fields.
This Easter, when you’re out and about enjoying the sun’s new rays and the wonders of spring, here’s something to reflect on: do we know just how valuable our nature really is?
The UK government has been laying the foundations for a new 25 year plan for the environment and will be making them public soon. The plan will be a key reference point for how we think about nature – including through economic valuation – and how that will influence big decisions. ClientEarth wants to see clear evidence of an approach that will restore and enhance nature.
To do this, the plan needs to recognise that nature has many different values and integrate them all into decision-making in every government department. The plan also needs to ensure the private sector factors environmental interactions into their decision-making too.
The many values of nature
Nature is valuable. In fact, it has many values: intrinsic, social and economic ones.
1. Intrinsic value: Nature is valuable for its own sake
Defra’s 25 Year Plan must make clear that biodiversity policy should always have the interests of nature for its own sake at its core.
2. Social value: Nature is valuable to us
Defra’s 25 Year Plan must make sure these important values are understood by all government departments and by all of us. The provision of these services needs to be adequately funded. And people should be able and empowered to access these benefits.
3. Economic value: Nature is valuable to business
Defra’s 25 Year Plan must ensure nature is factored into economic decision-making from the earliest possible stage – not treated as an afterthought. It must also commit to maintaining and restoring our natural capital so it doesn’t diminish over time.
Turning these values into policies for people and wildlife
Because nature’s many values are connected to each other, we can sometimes use economic tools to capture these values and guide our decision-making. And when we can do this, we should. Once we realise how much money bees save us, for example, we can understand a quantifiable reason why we shouldn’t use pesticides that could wipe them out.
But sometimes, economic tools are limited. This might be because they need redesigning. For example, GDP does not account for loss of natural resources because it treats them as a free resource. Instead, we need sound national accounts that treat resource depletion as an economic loss, as well as an environmental one.
Another limitation is that monetary values rarely tell the whole story. We’re used to talking about people being paid £10 an hour, without thinking that this means they’re literally worth £10 an hour. In the same way, we can value the Earth’s ecosystem services at $125trillion/year or Bridgend’s trees at £686million without taking this too literally either.
A way ahead
Let’s embrace the many values of nature in the 25 year plan. This means using economic tools to demonstrate that urban green space is a cost-effective way to improve health. And to argue for improved fisheries management.
It also means improving our accounting techniques to help us stop destroying our natural capital and treating it as a free and limitless resource.
They have intrinsic value after all.
A word on natural capital
“‘Natural capital’ is an increasingly popular metaphor for the features of the natural environment that underpin society, the economy and wellbeing. The concept of natural capital is attractive to business and government alike. It puts the natural environment on an equal footing to financial, manufactured, human and social capital.” Source: The Natural Capital Initiative
Image: Pablo Alvarez