Britain calls on the world to put a price on nature

The UK Government is setting up a Natural Capital Committee reporting to the Treasury that will work out our own wealth in terms of air quality, fresh water, wildlife and other natural resources. 

Now Caroline Spelman, the Environment Secretary, is going to propose that all countries begin “green accounting” that will audit the state of a nation’s rivers, forests and other landscapes. 

The initiative fits in neatly with David Cameron’s efforts to outgun Nicolas Sarkozy, the French President, in measuring happiness as well as GDP and makes the UK a key player at the Rio +20 conference in Brazil this June. 

The conference, held 20 years after the ground-breaking 1992 Earth Summit, that launched the modern green movement, is expected to unite the world to protect the environment in the same way that the Millennium Development Goals have driven the fight against poverty. 

‘Sustainable Development Goals on the table include ensuring all agriculture is sustainable, protecting oceans, setting up an international court on environmental crime and appointing a “ombudsperson” or high commissioner to speak on future generations. 

The United Nations summit, attended by 190 nations, will also look at cutting subsidies for fossil fuels and low carbon energy for all. 

Mrs Spelman said the first step towards sustainable development is knowing what to protect. 

She used bees as an example. She explained that the services of pollinators are worth £400 million to the UK every year but this can only be sustained by also protecting habitat such as wildflowers. 

“A snapshot of the state of economies based on GDP (gross domestic product) is too narrow,” she said. “Green accounting would work for all countries. We believe you can really drive significant ‘greening’ if you take proper account of the value of natural capital in your government accounts,” she added. 

A separate initiative by the Office of National Statistics is already looking at ways to measure GWB or general wellbeing so that a nation’s “happiness” is recorded. 

The idea is to eventually report ‘GDP+’ to give an idea of the state of Britain’s environment and the population’s levels of contentment as well as its financial state. 

The trend for questioning the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as a way to measure the real sate of a nation was first proposed in academia and taken up by world leaders including Nicolas Sarkozy, the French President. 

However it will be the UK leading the way on the environmental aspect by being the first nation to look seriously at green accounting. 

It is hoped that the findings of the Natural Capital Committee will one day feed into national policy on building infrastructure, education and health. 

Mrs Spelman said businesses are already measuring the impact they are having on the environment such as carbon emissions and water use. 

In the same way governments can start to take account of damage to the environment in order to sustain resources like fresh water for fisheries, forests for clean air and green spaces for tourism. 

“We want to advocate corporate accounting for sustainability, so that is right across the private sector, enabling investors and shareholders to understand if the company [they are] investing in is making an effort to take sustainability seriously,” she said.

Original article published at

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