“We can't afford dither and delay because biodiversity loss is happening today, it is happening at a frightening rate. If left unchecked, the consequences will be catastrophic for us all" Prime Minister Johnson said in his speech to the United Nations in September. But his Government have a funny way of showing it, when they have committed to nothing but a small envelope of an extra £60 million for nature projects in this years’ Spending Review.
While this may sound like a lot, when considering the scale of the biodiversity crisis and the work needed to rapidly reverse its decline, £60 million between 2021-2022 just won’t cut it compared with the £1bn needed for habitat creation and restoration in the next year alone. This is another opportunity missed in the finite amount of time we have to kick-start nature’s recovery and reverse biodiversity loss.
The supposed trade-off between investment in nature and investment into job creation is a false dichotomy: investing in nature is in fact one of the most cost-effective ways to avoid the high economic costs of environmental degradation. New investment in ‘shovel-ready’ nature recovery projects could create 10,000 new jobs in the short term. Nature recovery projects are capable of creating jobs at speed, and in all areas of the UK, which are not susceptible to offshoring and are less import intensive than traditional stimulus measures. What’s more is that the public recognise this, with a recent poll showing that 77% agreeing that Government investment in nature should be part of economic recovery.
In the same way that nature and jobs are connected, so are nature and pandemics. The Covid19 crisis should not be treated as a distraction from the need for investment in nature, but should be a catalyst toward action. It is increasingly well evidenced that pandemics are linked to biodiversity decline, and at the same time, access to nature has never been more important. Access to nature also reduces costs elsewhere: a £5.5 billion commitment to an urban green infrastructure as part of the government’s recovery stimulus could potentially achieve £200bn in physical health benefits, through disease prevention and mental well-being benefits.
In this Spending Review period, over £75m will go to National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, although only £20m of this is ‘new money’. This funding is welcome, although it must be funnelled toward improving nature inside existing designated landscapes- not just creating new ones. At present only a quarter of SSSIs in favourable condition inside National Parks, compared with over a third in the wider landscape.
We also warmly welcome the extra £40m for the Green Recovery Challenge Fund (certainly nothing to scoff at) after the first £40m this year was oversubscribed by 10 times. This is the sort of funding that we need to see going forward, with the environment sector prepped and primed to help the Government deliver on a range of ambitions and commitments including those in the 25YEP, 30% of land protected for nature by 2020, upcoming targets under the Environment Bill and of course net zero.
But urgent action to deliver on these will not be possible with underfunded institutions. Defra has been given an extra £600 million in cash terms between 2021-2022, but they have a considerable challenge ahead. The roll out of the new Environmental Land Management Scheme and the delivery of Local Nature Recovery Strategies are just two examples of nation-wide landmark policies which could do wonders for our natural environment, but which desperately need a well-resourced Defra, Natural England and the Environment Agency to deliver them.
And so goes the saying ‘there’s always next year’. We will look forward to the three-year Comprehensive Spending Review in 2021, where we will hope to see some major spending commitments to back up some of the major ambitions that the Government have set out, otherwise those 'catastrophic consequences' the Prime Minister talked about may not hold out until 2024.
Hannah Conway is Policy Officer and lead on Green Recovery work at Wildlife and Countryside Link.
The opinions expressed in this blog are the author's and not necessarily those of the wider Link membership.
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