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Released yesterday, the final report of the Natural Capital Committee shows that without new interventions, the decline in natural capital in recent decades will not only continue but accelerate. Natural capital refers to the elements of nature that produce value to people, such as the stock of forests, rivers, land, minerals and oceans. The report recommends a long term programme of investment in natural capital, as the “single most important action needed”.

The Natural Capital Initiative, a Special Interest Group of the Society of Biology, welcomes the report, which emphasises the need for collaborative working in order to reverse the decline of natural capital, but reiterates that bold action from Government is urgently needed.

Dr Allan Watt, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Interim Chair of the Natural Capital Initiative said: "The NCC reports give us an evidence base and a framework for action. We now need bold action from Government, not only to address their aim of 'being the first generation to leave the natural environment in a better state than it inherited’ set out in the Natural Environmental White Paper, but to appreciate the true value of the natural environment, for the health and wellbeing of this and future generations.

“Scientists will play a crucial role in the development of a 25 year plan, ensuring that actions are based on the best available evidence from across the natural and social sciences. But implementing the recommendations will require a collaborative effort between Government, businesses and civil society.

“At our recent Natural Capital Summit, business representatives called on Government to decide on and incentivise a natural capital accounting framework. We ask that Government take the recommendations in today’s report seriously, develop and legislate a strategy to protect and improve our natural capital, and work with industry to build on this momentum.”

The report from the NCC, an independent advisory body, which reports to the Economic Affairs Committee of the Cabinet, forecasts that population growth and increases in per capita consumption, will intensify pressures on goods and services derived from natural capital such as energy, water and food. Climate change and impacts of technological developments will likely increase pressure even further.

So far, these declines have not been accounted for in the national budget or appeared on businesses balance sheets. However, the decline in natural capital has potentially far-reaching consequences for economic growth, both directly and via impacts on human capital. The report identifies a number of productive investment opportunities in natural capital. Return on investment is estimated to be high, mainly because of the scarcity or poor condition of much of our natural capital. The NCC recommends assigning institutional responsibility for monitoring the state of natural capital; incorporating natural capital into the national accounts by 2020.

Dieter Helm, Chairman of the Committee said “There is now a great opportunity to improve the wellbeing and prosperity of both urban and rural populations and restore some of the natural capital that has been lost. (…) A future Government has this opportunity. This report sets out our advice as to how to do it. It remains for the post-May 2015 Government to decide whether or not to implement it.”

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