(Main pic: WWT’s Dr Richard Benwell arrives at Westminster to give evidence to an MPs’ enquiry)
WWT has set the Government a challenge to find a “magic missing metric” to underpin its plan for our environment’s future.
The challenge was set as WWT’s Head of Government Affairs, Dr Richard Benwell, gave evidence to a Parliamentary Committee reviewing the Government’s recently published 25 Year Plan for Nature.
Dr Benwell said:
“The magic missing metric for the long term is the sort of overarching natural capital asset index where we decide how much our natural capital assets are worth nationally, and what the maintenance investment cost will be to make sure those assets are improving in condition year on year.
“It’s also about turning metrics into publicly accessible targets. It might be habitat extent and quality, a basket of species index and a commitment to no extinctions? Which of these metrics could be used to be a proxy for air quality or water quality for wildlife and for access to natural green space? That’s the sort of exercise we need to be doing with the public over the next few months.”
WWT were invited to give evidence to MPs on behalf of a coalition of 47 environmental organisations in the UK with a combined membership of more than 8 million people.
Dr Benwell told MPs that targets were one of three issues on which the Plan needs to focus, along with “proper funding and a system of monitoring and accountability that can hold the Government to account”. He said the Plan makes a good start on these but the Government needs to go further and enact legislation:
“We’ve had targets before and missed them, and that’s why (the Plan should be) the first step on the road to an Environment Act which sets legally binding targets.
“On funding, there are good indications in the plan that the right money will come to make this happen. There are ways to unlock money from the private sector – like a green growth duty, a long term obligation to pay for damage, market making and certification.
“And on monitoring there is this promise of a new watchdog to hold the Government to account. That is an absolutely enormous task to replace the access to justice, complaints mechanism and the judicial functions of the European Union. We have an indication in this Plan that the Government’s intention is not just to replace those functions but to improve on it with a world class accountability body. So yes the hallmarks are in place but now we need an Environment Act to make it work.”
In lighter moments of the hour-long session with MPs, Dr Benwell told them they shouldn’t allow our natural wealth to be traded off, saying law makers shouldn’t be able to “swap 10 woodpeckers for a reduction in noise pollution”. Meanwhile the MPs Committee Chair, Mary Creagh, summed up the MPs’ wait for the Governments long-delayed 25 Year Plan for Nature as being “like waiting for a baby elephant, when it arrives you’re just glad it’s here”!