The Natural Capital Committee (NCC) was established nine years ago to advise the government on how best to achieve its stated objective of leaving the natural environment of England in a better state than it inherited. After taking advice from the NCC a 25 Year Environment Plan was published in 2018 which set out 10 key goals which the government committed to measuring itself against in an annual progress report.
Following publication of the government's 2020 Progress Report, the NCC has now published its Final Response. The Response concludes that there has been a lack of progress in achieving the government's stated goals, as well as some 'worrying declines'. The NCC concludes that it is now looking 'very likely' that the next generation 'will inherit a poorer set of natural assets'.
The Final Response runs to nearly 500 pages, so it does not make for easily digestible reading, but in summary it concludes that the government is not on course to achieve its objective to improve the environment within a generation. It sets out a range of recommendations, including a call for the development of a clear set of natural capital baseline datasets. It also calls for the expansion of the remit of the newly established Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) such that the government will be obliged to 'consider and respond' to the OEP's advice on setting and/or revising long term environmental targets and improvement plans.
The evidence presented in this report further highlights the lack of progress, and some worrying declines: nine of the 25 years have already passed, and it is now looking very likely the next generation will inherit a poorer set of natural assets. As a matter of urgency, the government should ensure that the proposed Natural Capital and Ecosystem Assessment pilot and any subsequent fully developed baseline exercise focuses on measuring the extent and condition of all natural assets across England, as per the NCC’s detailed advice – not just habitats, and should incorporate a substantial citizen science component. These steps are essential if the objectives in the 25 YEP are to be met and if the OEP is to inherit a workable framework to hold government to account.