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Professor Ian Bateman

University of Exeter expert urges Government to implement new laws to protect the environment

Progress on the Government’s long term plan for the environment is too slow and politicians should act more quickly to safeguard our natural resources, a University of Exeter expert has said.

Professor Ian Bateman and members of the Government’s Natural Capital Committee have said there needs to be radical action to reverse long term declines in the UK’s natural resources such as clean air, unpolluted water and fertile soils.

The Natural Capital Committee, which was established in 2011 as an independent body to give advice to government, brings together world-class expertise and experience in the fields of environmental economics, ecology, environmental science, accounting and business. In 2015 it recommended that the Government produce a 25 Year Environment Plan; advice that the Government accepted and is now working with the Committee to develop. The Committee’s newly published ‘State of Natural Capital’ report sets out further recommendations for delivering the Plan’s goal of protecting and improving natural capital within a generation, but the experts on the committee say progress on developing and implementing it has been too slow.

The Committee, who are charged with reporting and advising on the delivery of the plan, have urged politicians to act swiftly to capture the unique opportunity Brexit offers to safeguard and enhance our environment. Their latest report makes 16 recommendations which are designed to speed up this change, including the suggestion that the Environment Plan should be set in law to give it the teeth it needs to drive real change over 25 years. They have said suggestions for future legislation should be published in a White Paper this year, with new laws debated in Parliament in due course. The Committee also call for new investment from both the private and public sectors in order to deliver the plan, as well as the creation of new wildlife areas and an extension of the powers of National Parks.

In January Professor Bateman and the Committee met with Andrea Leadsom, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and Defra Minister Thérèse Coffey to discuss this report and its public launch.

Asked about the work underpinning the report, Professor Bateman said: “Experience from around the world shows that a failure to invest in the natural environment can cause major costs for a country, but also that investing in our natural capital not only enhances wellbeing and quality of life, it also generates major improvements for the economy. We can substantially improve the environment and economy of the country, and Brexit means that we have a chance to improve key policies such as those concerning agriculture and the environment in ways that have not been seen for decades – but this unique opportunity must not be missed”.

Professor Dieter Helm, Chair of the Committee, said: "This is a truly exciting time. Let’s be clear; progress so far has been too slow, and we risk losing out on vital sustainable economic growth. But success is still possible, and our report today lays out how. Brexit represents a once in a generation opportunity to legislate to safeguard and improve our environment for the good of the whole country. By acting now, with commitment and vision, the Government can achieve its goal of being the first generation to leave the natural environment of England in a better state than that in which we found it."

Date: 2 February 2017

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