Caroline Spelman’s speech at The Economics of Nature: Taking stock, sharing action event

Caroline Spelman’s speech at The Economics of Nature: Taking stock, sharing action event.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

The Rt Hon Caroline Spelman

It is great to be here with such a wide and diverse audience

And at such an exciting time for biodiversity. As you know, I recently returned from the Biodiversity Summit at Nagoya in Japan. A summit that - by all standards - was a great success.

Almost 200 countries agreed an ambitious global conservation plan to protect biodiversity worldwide, an international Protocol to establish a fair and transparent system on the use of the world’s genetic resources and a strategy for mobilizing more resources towards the conservation of biodiversity. I believe this outcome demonstrated two significant things:

Firstly that, despite the problems we may have seen at Copenhagen, the global community has not turned their backs on the need for international unity on major issues.

Nagoya has shown that we can come together and reach common agreement on the critically important global challenges facings us.

And secondly - and most importantly - it made clear that the international community is no longer prepared to accept the ongoing destruction of the natural world.

It is painfully clear that we have missed our previous targets and that global biodiversity continues to decline at alarming rates. Ministers from across the world recognised that this simply has to stop. The loss of biodiversity can’t go on. And not just because we value it for its own sake. Although of course we do.

The loss of biodiversity can’t continue, because - economically, socially- we simply can’t afford it.

From the global to the local, we rely on healthy biodiversity, ecosystems and habitats - and for business, addressing these issues - or not - is increasingly affecting their bottom line.

Consumers have growing expectations of businesses when it comes to biodiversity - and those which operate globally are more likely to come under scrutiny.

A recent MORI poll of top Chief Executives showed over 70% of them recognised that adapting to climate change - in effect, operating sustainably - was a key challenge. While the work of the UK Business Council for Sustainable Development is providing visible leadership to encourage our businesses to build in sustainability at every step.

But quite aside from being seen to do the right thing, the loss of biodiversity spells a very real financial loss to our global economies and to your profits - at a time when we need growth more than ever. The global cost of just one year’s worth of deforestation is estimated at between $2 and $5 trillion.

While European research shows pollination services provided - gratis - by insects are worth over 150 billion euros worldwide - every year. Biodiversity and balance sheets are fundamentally linked - they will only become more so in the years ahead.

That’s why I was pleased about the agreement at Nagoya - that we must stop seeing biodiversity as some side issue, a luxury, a nice to have, a ‘green’ issue.

I was really struck in Japan by the extent to which delegates from across the globe agreed that if we really going to make progress on biodiversity, we must take it outside of the ‘biodiversity box’ and start to address the underlying causes of its loss.

Because, the fate of biodiversity does not lie in the hands of a few conservationists or the green movement. The fate of biodiversity does not even lie within the hands of Defra!

The future of our biodiversity will be determined by the way we all live our lives - across all sectors; the way we do business, the way we plan our developments, the way we use our resources, the way we participate in our local communities, the way we make sustainable or unsustainable lifestyle choices.

We must mainstream biodiversity issues across sectors, across government and across society. Biodiversity is our natural capital. A valuable asset that we can no longer continue to erode. But we must work together to understand and appreciate what that value is. Because, if you don’t value something, you just don’t look after it.

I was delighted to see Pavan Sukhdev’s completed work on The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity - or TEEB - launched in Nagoya. The UK government has been both a staunch political and financial supporter of TEEB from its inception many years ago at the G8 summit in Potsdam.

TEEB has succeeded in drawing our attention to the economic dimensions of biodiversity and ecosystem services - the benefits they deliver, the costs of their loss and degradation, and ultimately their value to human well-being. TEEB shows us the incredible costs of losing biodiversity worldwide. For example, if we lose corals, we don’t just lose a recreational resource for the rich, we lose a source of food for about 500 million people.

If we lose forests, this does not only bring disastrous climate change impacts and loss of biodiversity, but we risk losing benefits that equate to between 47% and 89% of the total income of some of the world’s poorest people.

That’s why we must use the economics of sustainability to protect the planet’s trees from mass deforestation in the face of spiralling global demand for commodities such as palm oil and soya. But this isn’t just about the costs of loss.

By not appreciating the value of nature we can also miss out on great value for money investments.

For example, one of the examples given in the TEEB for business report outlined how by planting 400,000 trees in Canberra, Australia delivered savings in air conditioning expenditure, improvements in urban air quality and carbon storage worth between US$20m to US$67m.

We know that where action to protect biodiversity is taken it pays off - socially, economically and environmentally. The international TEEB study - The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity - tells us that protecting biodiversity can have a benefit to cost ratio of as much as 100:1.

So the case is being made for biodiversity. We know that biodiversity is good for business. We know we all have a role to play. Nagoya has set us quite a challenge.

The UK, along with 192 other Parties has agreed to take the necessary and effective urgent action to halt the loss of biodiversity.

I ask you as the voluntary sector, the business sector, the finance sector, the conservation sector - are you ready to meet that challenge?

And - if, as I hope, you are - what are you going to do?

The government can set the framework but we all need to act.

We certainly stand ready to meet the challenge as government. And I’ll tell you some of the ways in which we intend to do this:

I worked hard to shape the international framework, working with our EU colleagues and key negotiating partners such as Brazil and South Africa to ensure we achieved success in Nagoya.

But in many ways, the real test of UK leadership starts now - we must lead by example.

The global 2020 targets agreed at Nagoya will pose a new challenge and focus for biodiversity. This is a challenge we must take head on.

That is why within Defra we have already begun a full review or our England Biodiversity Strategy to take account of the Nagoya agreement.

We will also publish a new Natural Environment White Paper this spring which will set out how we plan to take key elements forward. This White Paper will articulate a new, compelling and integrated vision about the value of our natural environment, capital and services. It will set out a programme of actions designed to put the value of the natural environment at the heart of Government accounting and decision-making.

On TEEB and valuation, we recognise that the crucial next step is taking the messages of TEEB and putting them into practice. Which is why at Nagoya, I announced a further £400K to help promote and embed TEEB in developing countries. This effectively more than doubles our contribution to the project so far.

I also announced a further £500k from the UK Government to help establish a new Global Partnership on Ecosystem Valuation and Wealth Accounting -this is a project involving the World Bank and a number of countries worldwide to help countries integrate the values of biodiversity and ecosystems into national polices.

Closer to home, we are taking steps to demonstrate the value of our natural environment through investing in our own National Ecosystem assessment which for the first time will analyse of the UK’s natural environment in terms of the benefits it provides to society and continuing economic prosperity.

The first phase of the assessment has already demonstrated how fundamentally our natural environment underpins the well being of our society.

The second phase will show the real value of these benefits to the UK - both in monetary and non-monetary terms and will be published in the Spring. But we must all work together. And closer to home is where you come in.

By thinking innovatively and by working in partnerships - by being a pro-active part of the Big Society - business can help deliver a better natural environment for us all.

Let me give you an example: For the past 5 years the Westcountry Rivers Trust has worked with South West Water and other partners to develop the ‘Upstream Thinking’ project. This initiative is innovation in practice.

Through improving river quality and ecology ‘upstream’, this project delivers multiple benefits - it improves the raw water quality while helping safeguard the biodiversity of the region’s rivers. These are the win-win solutions businesses should be striving towards. Solutions that are good for biodiversity, good for people - and of course good for business.

In this particular project there was a clear incentive for the water company to protect upstream biodiversity as it led to effective decreases in the cost of water treatment before supply.

There is so much that British business is already doing - from environmental audits to ensuring supply chains minimise their impact on natural assets at every stage.

And some of you here today are already intrinsically linked in your consumers’ minds with good practice and a lack of complacency. But we need to build on this. We’d like to see those organisations which don’t already consider their impacts on the environment and on biodiversity to make these elements an intrinsic part of their production, design and manufacturing models - if they don’t do it now they will be forced to play catch-up with their competitors later.

TEEB has also shown that although at face value it may seem an easier option to just disregard biodiversity, ultimately this will lead to much greater costs for us all.

Greening your operations will deliver savings and efficiencies from reducing your carbon footprint by streamlining supply chains; using energy conservation to reduce heating bills; improving management of water resources reduces costs.

Businesses can also play an active role at the community level, where many of you are best place to engage families, schools, communities.

And there’s something you can already start helping us with. Defra will be launching its national tree planting campaign during national tree week - which starts on the 29th of this month. It will bring civil society organisations together to help local communities plant trees - improving their environments and their quality of life and bringing nature right into the heart of our towns and cities.

We are asking businesses to get involved - support the campaign nationally by planting trees around their offices and car parks and support it locally - by helping local community and charity projects whether with cash or volunteers. So, a fortnight from now, please look at our campaign pages on DirectGov and the Tree Council’s website which will have details of local projects and events.

I thank IUCN for the opportunity to speak at this excellent event. And I hope that this conference will demonstrate that biodiversity is an issue of relevance to everyone here today.

From global to local, this is just the beginning, and I realise there is a long road from Nagoya to reaching the ambitious goals we have set ourselves.

I hope you stand ready to join me in taking the first step.

Thank you.

Published 17 November 2010