A White Paper pricing the environment
The Natural Environment White Paper, the first for 20 years, promises new large-scale conservation and more business and community involvement. But it comes after the government has severely weakened the capacity of public bodies like the Forestry Commission to undertake good environmental stewardship. A TUC Briefing issued today, shows a 24% cut in the non-departmental “green” public bodies (£130m) over the next 4 years. Putting an “economic value” [aka price] on nature is therefore likely to cause more anxiety over the government’s environmental stewardship.
12 new, large “nature improvement areas” are promised, but with only £7.5m extra funding. Equally worrying is the intrusion of the language of business and commerce. The government will set up a natural capital committee – an independent panel to advise ministers on natural environment issues and report to the government’s economic affairs committee.
“Natural capital can be defined as the stock of our physical natural assets (such as soil, forests, water and biodiversity) which provide flows of services that benefit people (such as pollinating crops, natural hazard protection, climate regulation or the mental health benefits of a walk in the park). Natural capital is valuable to our economy”.
Green MP, Caroline Lucas, questioned the emphasis on the economy:
“Putting economic evaluation of the natural world might be a well-intentioned effort to convince economists and the business community of its importance, but putting a price on the environment only serves to further commodify it – perpetuating the idea that natural resources are simply there to be exploited.”
The Government continues to assert its intention to sell 15% of Public Forest Estate assets, despite recent public protests. But word search the White Paper in vain for “sell”, “sale” or “disposal”.
Its forests proposals include a welcome commitment to “a major increase in the area of woodland in England, better management of existing woodlands and a renewed commitment to conserving and restoring ancient woodlands.” But most of the impact of the proposed cutbacks at the Forestry Commission will be felt in the size, composition and organization of the workforce, which is facing a 25% reduction.
As a Tim Rollinson, Director General of the Forestry Commission, stated in a letter to the Forestry Commission Trade Unions on the 24th March 2011:
In terms of future delivery, it is extremely doubtful that we will be able to continue to deliver the range and level of service that the public currently enjoy.
Clearing away public bodies involved in not-for-profit environmental management creates space for the natural capitalists to move in, presumably?