Environmental Audit Committee

3 January 2007 Government must act to reconcile economic growth and development with the environment

3 January 2007 Government must act to reconcile economic growth and development with the environment

The Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) publishes today its First Report of Session 2006-07 entitled The  UN Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. The UN Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA) was a unique and groundbreaking study which showed how human activity is leading to species extinction on a massive scale, climate change and worsening poverty, and investigated how we might meet these challenges. The EAC found that the Government has started to talk the language of the MA, and has even commissioned MA-related research, but that more must be done to ensure that the MA findings become integral to the way in which the Government thinks and works. Colin Challen MP, Chairman of the Sub-committee heading the inquiry, said:

“Due to the rate and extent of current ecosystem degradation, and the risk to society that such degradation causes, it is with some urgency that the Government should act to ensure that the environment is not damaged by policies in areas as diverse as planning, transport, taxation, development and trade. Although protection of the environment in such policy areas may have short-term economic impacts, the long-term benefits are likely to be great. Ultimately the Government should not judge its success solely on the basis of economic growth through GDP. It should focus instead on a measure that more accurately describes human well-being. Growth is, after all, not an end in itself.

The Government must now ensure that the findings of the UN Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA) are fully integrated into its work and seek to ‘MA-proof’ all Government activities. Although we concede that it is still early days for the MA, we are concerned that the Government has not yet acted proportionately to the scale of the challenges identified in the MA. Concrete and robust policy responses must be introduced before the end of this Parliament.”

The MA found that the way in which society functions currently will lead to a world that is deraded considerably for future generations. To avoid many of these impacts substantial changes will have to be made to the way in which society values and deals with the environment. The MA also found that society should not be afraid of the financial implications of better protection and management of the environment, as the long-term financial benefits of such a strategy often greatly outweigh any short-term losses.

Notes for Editors

Some further conclusions of the EAC report are set out below:

The findings of the MA

  • Extensive environmental degradation has taken place, leading to extinction on a massive scale and an increased likelihood of abrupt environmental changes that could have devastating and permanent impacts on human well-being across the globe.

  • If the environment continues to be degraded, efforts to eradicate poverty will be unsuccessful and progress that has already been made may be reversed.

  • For society to avoid the devastating impact of environmental degradation, substantial changes need to occur to the way in which it values and deals with the environment. These changes may be politically controversial, but the case for concerted and decisive action has now been made.

The impact of the MA has been mixed

  • Many governments around the world have been slow to grasp the importance of the MA.

  • Development NGOs have failed to engage more with the MA findings. Although we understand that these NGOs might focus on the immediate problems associated with poverty, such as access to clean water, their failure also to focus on the need to maintain ecosystem services will ultimately unravel their efforts.

The Government must galvanise international action

  • A Millennium Ecosystem Fund must be established to fund MA studies in developing countries so that they can develop in such a way that does not damage the environment.

  • Government must strive for the establishment of an ongoing international MA programme. We believe that failure to do this will result in continued degradation of the environment.

The Government must do more in the UK

  • Current measures of growth undervalue the environment and do not reflect society’s happiness. The Government must therefore introduce an economic indicator that measures growth in a way that recognises environmental limits and more accurately describes human well-being, as early as possible.

  • The continued threat of extinction of around 240 species in our Overseas Territories is shameful. To achieve international commitments to reduce biodiversity loss, the Government must act decisively to ensure that our Overseas Territories have the capacity to protect their, and our, biodiversity.

  • We feel that the Barker Review of Land Use Planning did not appear adequately to balance economic, environmental and social considerations and therefore it failed to follow the principles espoused by the MA.

  • The Comprehensive Spending Review is a fundamental and long-term review of Government funding and therefore we are concerned that failure satisfactorily to incorporate the MA’s findings might, in effect, lock in unsustainable practices for some time. It is extremely important that the CSR, and all Government policy, reflects the need to address the MA findings.

  • Ultimately the Government should conduct a full MA-type assessment for the UK to enable the identification and development of effective policy responses to ecosystem service degradation.

  • The MA provides evidence of the substantial non-market benefits gained from sustainable ecosystem management and therefore the Government must give adequate funding to the development of tools that will enable decision-makers across Government to appreciate and take advantage of these.

The report published today by the EAC is its First Report of Session 2006-07, The UN Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, HC 77.  Details of all the Committee’s press releases together with its Reports, oral evidence and other publications, are available on the Committee’s website at:  www.parliament.uk/eacom

The Sub-committee will be taking evidence on a new Inquiry into the Foreign and Commonwealth Office during January and February 2007.