The case for a Nature and Wellbeing Bill (with a lesson from Ecuador)

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I’ve been the RSPB’s Conservation Director since May 2011. As I settle into the job, I’ll be blogging on all the big conservation topics and providing an inside view of our conservation projects. I hope you enjoy reading it and feel inspired to join in t

The case for a Nature and Wellbeing Bill (with a lesson from Ecuador)

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I am delighted that people are beginning to talk and write about our joint campaign with The Widlife Trusts for a Nature and Wellbeing Act (read Mike McCarthy here and Geroge Monbiot here).   Thousands of people have also written to their MPs to encourage them to include a commitment to the Bill in their election manifestos and hundreds of people have already registered to join our Rally for Nature on 9 December.

At the heart of the Bill are long-term targets for nature, which would help hold the Government to account for restoring our natural environment for the next generation. We want the Bill to drive nature's recovery in the same way the Climate Change Act in 2008 has helped to drive down greenhouse gas emissions.

As Matt Shardlow (CEO of Buglife) wrote in his latest blog (here), current endeavours - for example through the government sponsored Nature Improvement Areas - are good but insufficient.  I expect the publication of government's biodiversity indicators this week will also show the scale of the challenge - watch out for the new threatened species index and for the state of our finest wildlife sties - SSSIs.  

We need a plan, commitment and resources to drive nature's recovery.  That's why we’re calling for Local Ecological Network Strategies.

We have also, unashamedly, made the case for a stronger Natural Capital Committee – or an Office for Environmental Responsibility – that would audit Government decisions for their effect on nature, making sure that we don’t use up out natural resources that we depend on, or unwittingly threaten species and habitats.  This has caused a little consternation amongst some (see here) but we want the value of nature to be taken into account in decision-making and use any techniques possible to make this happen.  

Later this week, the Chancellor George Osborne will deliver his autumn statement and my bold prediction is that the value of nature will be completely absent from his speech.  Yet, the Government still intends, by 2020, for the Chancellor of the day to be able to report on the state of our natural capital as well as financial capital.  This would change the way that government would respond to the natural world.  It doesn't mean that we've sold out and don't believe in the intrinsic value of nature - it means that we are trying to influence the way that traditional economics (and politics) works.  I look forward to the day when my fellow Gooner, Robert Peston, is obliged to talk about nature in numbers with the same frequency as the highs and lows of the stock market.  

We know how much we need nature.  That's why we’re proposing standards for access to high quality green space, and basic education about our natural world in schools, so that everyone can be properly connected with nature. It’s hard to believe that even now, people living in the most deprived areas are 10 times less likely to live in the greenest areas and die on average 7 years earlier than those in the richest areas. But if every household in England were provided with good access to quality green space it could save around £2.1 billion a year in health care costs.

We think the Bill is ambitious but also that its time has come and we need it now.

But maybe we haven't gone far enough.  My boss sent me this link to the Rights for Nature Articles in Ecuador's constitution (see here) which argues that nature has the right to exist and to its restoration.  

I am sure that is something with which our Bob would agree.  So, if you haven't done so already, please do lend him your vote. 

Comments
  • Hi Martin, your example was taken from Ecuador - and may have been compromised by unfortunate translation into English - but a better example might be Bolovia:- www.environmentallawportal.com/bolivia-environmental-developments-q4-2012

  • Nightjar - you are absolutely right.  Tough on sedimentation, tough on the causes of sedimentation etc.

    Rob - alas, I think that one stumped me as well.  I think we are striving to find ways for harmonious coexistence. Which is why I was always a fan of the 2005 definition of sustainable development: delivering a fair and just society that lives within environmental limits through (and note these means to an end) good governance, sound science and a sustainable economy.

  • Ironically, the application of real economics to the way we manage our land in England would be transformational. Far from costing money, I reckon we could save £1 billion/pa in flood management and water quality costs alone if we stopped subsidising landuses - especially agriculture - where we are paying for downstream damage - diffuse pollution & speeding water off the land. That is just one example. Perhaps even bigger, is the potential impact of how we manage the land around our cities - to create places for people and for wildlife and to check the flood and clean the grey water off our streets. We are starting to see hints of bigger thinking - Medmerry and its Stilts are a flagship - and community woodlands and nature reserves like Rainham restoring damaged land show what the 'setting' of our cities could become - but we are held back by policies for landuse and planning dating back to 1947 and it is time to move into the 21st century.  

  • Martin - Re the rights of nature in Ecuador, could you tell what your think this means; 'Every person, people, community or nationality, will be able to demand the recognitions of rights for nature before the public organisms'.

    I just wonder if those queuing at a foodbank might think of that.

    I agree wholeheartly that we must be more ambitious but instead of govt 'big brother' leading us, why not raise our own responsibility to check our own impact on nature. Be wary of hinting of win;wins that can't be delivered (better human wellbeing with walks in the park, lots of affordable food and nature in fine fettle) Better to be optimistically realistic and tell us all about the win;lose that our consumption results in.

    Then we might change the way we eat and live.

  • Thanks, Redkite, and I look forward to seeing you next week.

  • Excellent blog Martin setting out the overwhelming case for a Nature and Wellbeing Bill early in the nexst Parliament. I think an Office for Environmental Responsibility is a great idea and so necessary as while one Government Department may understand the message about acting responsibly towards the environment many of the others do not and may not even have anyone in them who has a sound grasp of the subject.

    As a country I think we are often too self satisfied with what we do or don't do, but looking at other countries like Holland, Sweden and no doubt Germany together with the expample of Ecuador that you give, we are in fact well behind and it is high time we caught up with much better protection  for nature. This Bill would provide a good opportunity for doing so.