The UK government has committed to leaving the environment in “a better state than we found it” in response to a landmark review of the economic importance of nature.
Major transport and energy infrastructure projects in England will need to provide a net-gain for biodiversity, and the government said it would ensure all new bilateral aid spending did not harm the natural world as part of an effort to ensure a “nature-positive” future.
The commitments were part of the formal response to the Dasgupta review of Earth’s so-called natural capital, which found that the planet is being put at “extreme risk” by the failure of economics to account for the environment, concluding human development had come at a “devastating cost” to life-sustaining ecosystems.
The first-of-its-kind 600-page assessment was commissioned by the UK Treasury in 2019 and undertaken by Prof Sir Partha Dasgupta, a Cambridge University economist. It urged governments to adopt an alternative form of national accounting to GDP, which includes the state of the natural world and create new supranational organisations to protect oceans, rainforests and other public goods.
In response, the UK government said it agreed with the central conclusion of the report that nature sustains human livelihoods but stopped short of backing major recommendations like moving away from GDP, insisting it remained an important indicator.
Alongside funding for public and private natural capital accounting schemes, the government said all new “nationally significant infrastructure” projects in England, such as major transport and energy schemes, would need to have an overall positive effect on nature. The government said it was also aiming to deliver a net-gain for biodiversity on the Crewe-Manchester stretch of HS2.
The response was welcomed by several environmental NGOs but the RSPB said it was concerned that the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, had not signed the official government response, which was signed off by the environment secretary, George Eustice, and the exchequer secretary to the Treasury, Kemi Badenoch.
The RSPB’s chief executive, Beccy Speight, said: “The Treasury showed foresight in commissioning the Dasgupta review in 2019 and this response shows some really encouraging thinking from them. However, two years on the chancellor has clearly signalled he rejects its findings by refusing to sign up to the government’s response.
“The efforts to green our economy are being undermined by a chancellor who doesn’t seem to grasp the basics: that you cannot spend down the world’s natural capital and build up unsustainable levels of ‘nature debt’, and still expect to have a thriving planet and functioning ecosystems to pass on to your children.”
A Treasury spokesperson said: “Today’s response to the Dasgupta review is a clear demonstration of the government’s commitment to addressing biodiversity loss at home and abroad, and one which the chancellor fully supports.”
On Sunday, the G7 summit ended with wealthy nations reaffirming their goals on the climate crisis and agreeing to protect and restore 30% of the natural world by 2030, but failed to provide the funds experts say will be needed to achieve the aims.
The environment secretary, George Eustice said: “If we want to realise the aspiration set out in Prof Dasgupta’s landmark review to rebalance humanity’s relationship with nature, then we need policies that will both protect and enhance the supply of our natural assets.
“This is what lies at the heart of the government’s 25-year environment plan, and our new measures to embed biodiversity net gain further in the planning system for major infrastructure, through our landmark environment bill.
“It’s also behind our approach to future farming policy and other initiatives such as £3bn for climate change solutions that restore nature globally and our new due diligence law to clean up our supply chains and help tackle illegal deforestation.”