Twitter LinkedIn

A nature positive UK? Not without new money for nature in this week’s Spending Review

Ahead of the Spending Review on Wednesday, Paul Morling, Chief Economist at RSPB gives us a breakdown of what the government need to do to bring biodiversity back from the brink and heed recovery, both for the economy and for nature.

October 2021

We have great and welcome government aspirations for a nature positive future. Indeed, in its response to the Dasgupta Review the Government committed to: (1) delivering a ‘nature positive’ future, in which we leave the environment in a better state than we found it, and reverse biodiversity loss globally by 2030; and (2) ensuring economic and financial decision-making, and the systems and institutions that underpin it, supports the delivery of that nature positive future.

The next three years, the period covered by this Autumn’s Spending Review, will be critical for meeting the legally-binding objectives to halt nature’s decline by 2030 and cut carbon emissions by 78% by 2035. It will also be essential in re-setting the economy on a more sustainable basis following the pandemic and providing more people with access to a healthy natural world.

There are three ways the spending review can deliver the government’s nature positive ambitions support levelling-up, net zero and help restore our post pandemic health and wellbeing:

Direct Investment from government to achieve a “nature positive” future
. There exists a major gap between existing funding and the level of investment needed to meet the Government’s nature and climate targets. The extra £124m announced as part of the Net Zero Strategy is certainly a good start, but it is a drop in the ocean: the overall financing gap for nature has recently been estimated at around £4.6bn per year, or similarly according to another study £56 billion over the next 10 years.

To start reducing this we are calling on the Government to commit to spending:

  • A bare minimum extra investment of £1.2 billion to restore priority habitats and protect wildlife, plus an additional £1 billion a year to achieve wider land and marine environmental priorities including nature-based solutions as cost efficient climate solutions.
  • At-least £1.8 billion a year (or £5.5bn over three years) to provide health and wellbeing benefits through access to nature where people live and work as a core part of the Government’s levelling -up agenda across the UK.

At-least £501 million more a year to underpin our existing environmental law and commitments through advice, data, enforcement, and capacity-building: The 40% cuts to the Budgets of Defra, its agencies and Devolved equivalents has seriously compromised their ability to deliver statutory outcomes, let alone deliver new ambitious strategies such as Nature Recovery Networks or the 30x30 target.

Transformation of wider government spending decisions.
The economic reset needed to ensure economic and financial decision-making now deliver a nature positive future, must start with Government decisions. This requires:

  • Effective implementation across government of government project appraisal guidance to include the full value of biodiversity and natural capital in its future investment and policy choices.
  • Future environmental screening of all future government spending and taxation policies to ensure that the UK’s annual budgets and multi-year spending reviews support a net zero, nature positive transition.
  • A new green procurement policy to ensure all UK government annual spend on goods and services is nature positive and sets the standard for the private sector. The public sector represents over 40% of the UK economy, The choices it makes about the goods and services it buys have huge environmental consequences.

Expand private sector investment in nature. Government intends to leverage much greater private investment into nature. It will only do this if it:

  • Properly finances the public bodies who will be required to oversee new markets.
  • Develops and enforces effective market rules and standards.
  • Ensures consistency and coherence between the new investment opportunities.

Since its strong endorsement of the Dasgupta Review and commitment to a nature positive future, the Spending Review represents the first opportunity to go beyond intent and put in place the action funding and actions needed to deliver more nature on the ground and reverse the current accelerating rate of loss.

Earlier this week it was gratifying to see Costa Rica win the inaugural “Protect & Restore Nature” Earthshot prize for their innovative approach, in place since 1997, to avoiding forest loss and restoring biodiversity. That outcome was achieved through Government strategic choices and direct government spending. If the UK is to succeed, it will need to do the same.

Failure to invest, does not just mean missing key Environment Bill targets for nature it also means shutting one off the most cost-effective pathway to net zero. In a post pandemic world it also means a failure to deliver the vast health and wellbeing that nature delivers and will mean forgoing the critical role nature can play in levelling up UK society.

Paul Morling is Chief Economist at the RSPB

Follow: @RSPBNews

The opinions expressed in this blog are the author's and not necessarily those of the wider Link membership.