The Manchester to Crewe leg of the HS2 railway, often criticised for its impact on nature, will be subject to biodiversity net gain, the government said yesterday. Photograph: Jim Dyson/Getty Images The Manchester to Crewe leg of the HS2 railway, often criticised for its impact on nature, will be subject to biodiversity net gain, the government said yesterday. Photograph: Jim Dyson/Getty Images

Government response to the Dasgupta review: 15 things you need to know

A wealth of new measures were included in the government’s response to Sir Partha Dasgupta’s review of the economics of biodiversity, from greener schools to applying net gain to major infrastructure projects. Here’s what you need to know

1 “More needs to be done” to protect nature

The response begins by rehearsing recent government measures to improve nature: the “world-leading” target for species abundance that will be inserted into the Environment Bill, the commitment to protect 30% of the UK’s land and ocean by 2030 and post-Brexit agri-environment reforms and others.

“We are not complacent, however, and recognise that more needs to be done – both domestically and internationally,” says a foreword from exchequer secretary Kemi Badenoch.

2 The government commits to a ‘nature positive’ future

Sir Partha Dasgupta’s review concluded that, as nature sustains the global economy, government decisions must take into account the value of the goods and services that it provides.

“In line with this ambition, and in response to the review, the government commits to: delivering a ‘nature positive’ future, in which we leave the environment in a better state than we found it, and reverse biodiversity loss globally by 2030; and ensuring economic and financial decision-making, and the systems and institutions that underpin it, supports the delivery of that nature positive future.”

3 Net gain will apply to major infrastructure

The government will introduce an amendment to the Environment Bill to apply the biodiversity net gain principle to nationally significant infrastructure projects, rather than solely those handled through the conventional planning regime. Requirements for them will be “tailored” where necessary, says the response.

A consultation on the details of the policy will open later this year, including on when it will be introduced and what exemptions may apply.

Pre-empting the policy’s introduction, the government announced yesterday that the Crewe-Manchester branch of the HS2 railway will aim to deliver net gain too, going beyond the earlier commitment to deliver “no net loss” in biodiversity.

READ MORE: ‘New Marshall Plan’ needed for nature, says Treasury review

READ MORE: Environment Bill: Amendment to extend net gain to major infrastructure projects

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4 Marine net gain is under development

The government is working on applying the net gain principle to developments in the marine environment. A consultation on this is due to open later in the year.

Whilst this approach applies only to development in the terrestrial and intertidal zones, an approach for marine net gain is under development for schemes located within the marine environment, with the aim to consult on the principles later this year.

5 The biodiversity metric will be updated

Natural England and DEFRA are collaborating to deliver the third version of the biodiversity metric, which provides a way to calculate a site’s baseline biodiversity and how it can be raised, such as increasing the size or quality of habitats. The Environment Bill will mandate its use for all forms of development covered by net gain.

6 The UK Infrastructure Bank could invest in nature

In addition to supporting regional and local economic growth and climate change adaptation, the recently-announced UK Infrastructure Bank could also invest in natural capital. The government will review the case for doing so before putting the bank on a statutory footing, says the response.

7 Expect plans to increase access to green space

“The Covid-19 pandemic has heightened public appreciation of the benefits of time outdoors, making the link between access to the natural environment and people’s physical and mental health and well-being clearer for many. The government is therefore committed to enhancing our accessible green spaces and harnessing them to improve public health. We will develop proposals to take forward later this year. To support this work, HM Treasury, environment and health ministers will host an expert roundtable ahead of the autumn,” says the response.

8 Expect investment in agricultural innovation

One of the Dasgupta review’s themes was how global food production drives biodiversity loss. In response, the government says that it is “committed to developing a Food Strategy that will support the development of a food system that is sustainable, resilient and affordable, that will support people to live healthy lives and protect animal health and welfare.”

As part of the transition towards the new ‘public money for public goods’ subsidy regime, the government also wants to increase the use of more efficient agricultural technologies, mentioning in particular vertical farming and cellular agriculture (such as synthetic meat, silk and gelatin). Capital grants via the Farming Investment Fund “will be weighted towards those investments that improve productivity whilst delivering environmental benefits”, says the response.

It adds that adopting a more liberal approach to genetic manipulation could boost crop productivity, reduce the use of agrochemicals, increase disease resistance and improve nutritional value.

9 A new ‘better regulation’ framework is expected soon

The response says that the government will consult on proposals to reform the Better Regulation Framework in the coming months, to “consider how environmental impacts can best be taken into account in the design and implementation of regulatory policy”.

It follows the announcement in January that the government would not apply a formal target to cut regulatory burdens on business this year. The regime under which the target would be set does not take environmental and other considerations into account properly, climate change and corporate responsibility minister Lord Callanan admitted in December.

10 Natural Capital will be incorporated into national accounts

The Treasury and the Office for National Statistics will work together to improve the way that nature is incorporated into the UK’s financial accounting practices.

“The government recognises that GDP has its limitations and should not be seen as an all-encompassing measure of welfare – something it was never designed to be,” says the response. As Dasgupta recommended, a broader measure of ‘inclusive wealth’ will be developed, incorporating natural, human and produced capital.

11 The Green Book is becoming greener

The Treasury’s ‘Green Book’ sets out how government policies, programmes and projects should be appraised financially and in relation to government objectives. A review of its environmental elements was made last year and it continues to be updated: next will be changes to the discount rate for environmental impacts, on which Dasgupta will be consulted, and which will conclude this year.

The Treasury has also convened economists, scientists and other experts to produce supplementary guidance on biodiversity valuation, on top of existing guidance on natural capital. The panel’s output is due to be published later this year to complement the Environment Bill’s net gain provisions and support the better consideration of biodiversity in policy-making.

It is also expected that government departments will have to provide more detailed information on environmental impacts ahead of the next spending review. “To support this work, HM Treasury is joining the Paris Collaborative – an OECD-led initiative which aims to explore and share best practice on new tools to assess and drive improvements in the alignment of national expenditure and revenue processes with climate and other environmental goals,” the response says.

12 The Green Financing Framework will be published in a fortnight

The government’s Green Financing Framework will be published on 30 June, forming “the basis for identification, selection, verification and reporting of the green projects that are eligible for being financed by the proceeds of the UK government’s green gilt programme,” which will open this year, plus National Savings and Investments’ forthcoming green retail product, says the response.

The framework will cover expenditures relating to biodiversity and the transition to net zero.

13 Schooling will be greener

The Dasgupta review underlined the importance of education in achieving a nature-positive future.

The government is therefore “committed to helping create a sustainable future through education, developing the skills needed for a green economy”, says the response.

The Department for Education has recently established a Sustainability and Climate Change Unit to co-ordinate and drive activity across the department. Its specific aims, which will include helping to connect people with the natural world, will be set out in a forthcoming strategy.

The department “is also exploring proposals for complementing the curriculum by way of an environmental youth achievement award scheme to involve young people in efforts to understand, measure the environmental impact of, and enhance the school estate. As well as future-proofing the school estate, this will further encourage contact and connectedness with the natural environment among young people,” says the paper.

More broadly, the government is looking to extend nature-related considerations into continuing professional development programmes, led by the Government Office for Science. This includes incorporating the economics of biodiversity into the expected skills for the Government Economic Service, with regular training offered to its staff.

14 The government has global ambitions

“In addition to continuing to drive forward its ambitious agenda for nature and biodiversity at home, the government will support other countries to do the same,” says the response, ensuring that nature stays at the top of the global agenda over the year. This includes through the UK’s presidency of the G7 and COP26, the COP15 biodiversity summit in China and the Leaders’ Pledge for Nature.

Biodiversity objectives will also be integrated into foreign aid, sitting alongside the existing commitment to spend at least £3bn of international climate finance on nature by 2026.

15 There is more to come

The policies outlined in the response “will not be the final word on our path to delivering a nature-positive future. Furthermore, we recognise the important role that the devolved administrations are playing and will continue to play and will work with them to meet international obligations and targets, and to ensure policies across the UK are aligned and complementary”.

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