Environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria have quickly risen to the rank of key priorities for companies in recent years.
Companies are now well aware that they will be evaluated not only on the strength of their balance sheet or the quality of their service, but also on their ethical position.
Preserving and maintaining the natural environment of the planet and the creatures that inhabit it is one of the justifications for efforts to combat climate change.
And in order to promote this in the UK, Westminster has made the issue the ninth pillar of its 10-point plan.
He pledged to increase the Green Stimulus Fund to £ 80million – with hopes of completing more than 100 nature-related projects over the next two years – and spending £ 5.2bn for flood defenses, a commitment that could create up to 20,000 jobs.
For the penultimate edition of 10 Point Pod, a series dissecting the government’s flagship policy, Ed Reed of Energy Voice is joined by Richard Betts, Associate Partner in Climate Change and Sustainability Services at EY and Tim Kirkwood, Managing Director of Danish billionaire Anders Holch Povlsen’s Scotland Wildlands Conservation Organization.
“Do we still have to worry about biodiversity?
Unlike other items included in the Westminster Master Plan, the economic and industrial benefits of “protecting our natural environment” are not clearly evident.
The majority of people in the UK live in urban areas, far from rolling mountains and stretching coastlines.
In addition, there is a growing need for more development so, as Reed points out, “do we still have to worry about biodiversity?
Betts said: “We have to remember what biodiversity is. The links between different species, including our own, we must remember that we are part of nature.
“Our world is urbanizing rapidly and we often don’t think about the natural world. Many have become detached or desensitized. But biodiversity is the foundation of everything, including our economy, so we need to be concerned about it. “
Kirkwood added, “If you’re in sub-Saharan Africa, for example, you live very close to nature.
“If your environment cannot meet your needs, it appears to you very quickly. There is no wood to cook, no bushmeat to harvest, your water reserves are running out.
“You know pretty quickly that you are exceeding the resources you rely on for a living. ”
“These are tiny amounts in terms of the problems we are facing”
As outlined in the 10-point plan, the UK government has made several financial commitments to protect the natural environment and encourage it to thrive.
But the question of whether the sums of money deployed are sufficient to really meet the challenges is up for debate.
Kirkwood said: “Fundamentally, this is an investment in conservation and restoration, to increase our stock of nature and its ability to regenerate.
“The 10 point plan is pretty good; it addresses a number of them. But these numbers that are being spat out by governments – have £ 40million here, £ 50million there – they ring a bell, but in reality they’re miniscule amounts in terms of the problems we’re facing. “
In order to implement significant changes, Betts says “system solutions” are needed.
He added: “We have to look at the big picture. Yes, there are a lot of good initiatives going on, but we need to see what else we are doing with our money.
“Important studies have been published recently on the extent of the harmful subsidies that governments around the world are providing.
“One of these reports looked at the subsidies that have been given to agriculture around the world on an annual basis. He found that 90% of those subsidies – and it was about $ 500 billion – actually went to harmful farming activities. ”
“We must repair our balance sheet”
Committing to ‘protecting our natural environment’ could have been something the UK government felt it needed to include, rather than something it wanted.
Employment figures and commitments to improve living standards are not at the center of the proposals.
Responding to a question from Reed as to whether this is a “cost” or an “opportunity,” Kirkwood was unequivocal in his position.
“Nature is fundamental to our balance sheet and we have been plundering it for a long time. We pulled on the record and didn’t notice it.
“We measure outputs in terms of gross domestic product, built capital and everything in between – we welcome each other as it goes up. But that’s just a measure of the output on the other side.
“We have damaged the fundamentals that were provided to us, so we need to see it in a different way, and our policy needs to address that. We need to fix our record.
Beyond preserving the natural environment as a necessity, Betts says there are opportunities to make money doing so.
He said: “There is enormous potential here for job creation on a very large scale. In our dominant system – with very intensive agriculture, intensive fishing, etc. – you don’t see a lot of people on earth. There are very few people actually employed in much of the country.
“If we can move from being planet taker to planet guardian, that will require a lot more intervention. There is a need for rewilding and there is a role for new technologies – drones and the like. And there may also be many local job creation opportunities to help manage and restore landscapes. “
It would be difficult to find someone who does not agree with the idea that the natural environment must be protected.
Where the debate lies is around how best to act and whether society should be willing to give up on things to get there.
While there are no easy solutions to effective and holistic conservation, the economic benefits of doing so should generate widespread interest and grow green shoots.
EY Insight by Richard Betts
In our modern, hectic urban lifestyles, we often haven’t thought much about the environment or nature and have tended to view the environment as being of marginal importance to our lives and the economy. Yet, as the much-hyped Dasgupta Review recently pointed out, nature is actually the foundation of our economy, livelihoods, and well-being. The economy is therefore not separate from nature, but integrated with it. Nature provides many “services” to all of us, including food and water, shelter, regulating our climate, maintaining nutrient cycles and producing oxygen; in addition to providing us with spiritual fulfillment, being the source of much cultural inspiration and offering opportunities for recreation and recovery, which can improve our health and well-being.
Many recent studies have highlighted how the loss of nature is now a global crisis that jeopardizes the prosperity of current and future generations and how tackling the biodiversity crisis must be a global and national priority in and of itself and also because we cannot effectively tackle other systemic crises like the climate crisis without addressing the crisis of nature in parallel because they are highly interconnected.
Faced with the magnitude of these risks, we need rapid, transformative change and a new paradigm that includes how we measure success. In our prevailing unsustainable model, our demands on nature far exceed its supply capacity. This presents extreme risks to our economies. Hence the need for us to embrace sustainable economic growth, well-being and to invest in the preservation and restoration of our most precious asset, nature. Doing so can help us thrive in the 21st century and ensure the collective well-being of present and future generations.
Subscribe to the 10 Point Pod series for free and listen to the episode about protecting our natural environment here.
Find last month’s edition dedicated to carbon, the use of capture and storage by clicking here.
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