Caroline Spelman speech – Launch of Environmental White Paper discussion paper – Kew

'A world in a grain of sand - creating a new environment policy for England'

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

The Rt Hon Caroline Spelman

Thank you all so much for being here today.

I’d like to start by thanking our hosts at Kew for offering us this venue - I can think of few more appropriate places to take this first important step of putting the health of our natural environment at the heart of our economic stability.

Because what we are starting today with the launch of our Natural Environmental White Paper discussion document is no less than the creation of a new environment policy for England.

This is not to decry the environment policy of previous governments, but for a new Government to seize the day and provide a fresh approach to protecting and enhancing our Natural Environment.

As a society, we always mean well when it comes to the environment.

But appreciating the aesthetics of our waterways, forests and biodiversity hasn’t saved them from piecemeal degradation over the years.

The work of so many of the organisations you represent have made an enormous difference to the quality of life of our entire population - whether they know it or not.

The air we breathe today is cleaner than at any time since the Industrial Revolution.

The quality of the water in our rivers has improved - and our otters, salmon and river birds are returning.

Two thirds of agricultural land in England and the majority of our most spectacular landscapes are part of thriving agri-environmental schemes.

But we need to make progress at a faster rate to redress the degradation and loss of species.

Too often as a society, when it comes to our natural environment, we take three steps forward and one step back.

And I want to nail a particular myth: that economic gain and environmental protection are incompatible, whereas they are actually inseparable.

And all too often we decide that looking after our natural environment is something to be left solely to Government.

As you will have heard by now, the new Government believes in a Big Society approach to tackling the big problems we face.

Protecting our Natural Environment lends itself perfectly to this model because of the abundance of charities and other organisations which populate this field of endeavour.

So today, where rebuilding our economies is the number one priority for governments across the world, we need to start making the economic case for our environment at least as strongly as we have been making the aesthetic one.

As a nation we are in environmental as well as economic deficit.

We need to seize this opportunity to start paying down that debt.

The global work done by Pavan Sukhdev and his team shows us that we can actually put a price on the products and services that nature gives us, and see how that value changes over time.

And Defra’s own first National Ecosystem Assessment, co-chaired by our Chief Scientist Bob Watson, which will be published in Spring next year will give us a much better idea of the state of the UK’s ecosystems.

I want today’s launch to start a sea-change in the way we see our own natural environment.

Not just as beautiful landscapes, rivers and fields - but as the natural foundation upon which our economy is built.

Our honeybees, butterflies and other pollinators contribute up to £440 million to our economy every year - that’s 13% of the country’s entire income from farming.

Touring Kew’s pollinator exhibition, I’ve been reminded of just how diverse these pollinators are.

That’s why Defra is providing £2.5 million over the next 5 years as part of a joint initiative to better understand what the threats to our pollinators actually are.

Our national parks are not just beautiful - they play a key part in our local economies.

English national parks support over 54,000 tourism-related jobs.

The Peak District National Park alone contributes £155 million to the region in economic output - 60% of local businesses say business would suffer if the landscape deteriorated.

While the way we manage our agricultural land can mitigate climate change, as well as protect biodiversity.

Farmers in environmental stewardship schemes, for example, reduce carbon emissions from their farms by 3.5 million metric tonnes a year - that’s a carbon saving of around £1.25 billion every 7 years.

Our natural environment, of course, isn’t just restricted to our land and air.

The Marine and Coastal Access Act clears the way to the creation of a network of marine conservation zones around the UK that will provide ecosystem services worth up to £1.6 billion every year.

And the health and diversity of our natural environment doesn’t just add to the quality of our lives - it can actually extend them.

People who live within 500 metres of green space are almost a quarter more likely to be active at recommended levels than those who don’t.

And it’s estimated that the NHS could save over £2 billion through increased activity in open green spaces - our own natural health service.

Our trees capture carbon and hold soils together, preventing flooding and helping to control our climate.

They also add immeasurably to the quality of life in our towns and cities.

In some parts of inner London, for example, each tree is calculated to be worth as much as £78,000 in terms of its benefits.

I might make the tree surgeons in Smith Square prune with a little more sensitivity next time!

That’s why, this year, we’ll be launching a national tree planting campaign to spread trees throughout our high streets and neighbourhoods, providing a greener environment for millions more urban citizens.

This will be a job for everyone, bringing charities, local environmental groups and businesses together to make a real and lasting difference to our urban environment - the Big Society in action.

It’s that sense of personal responsibility and involvement that’s behind the Natural History Museum’s first ever survey to map the trees growing in our cities launched this month -  the kind of project that just wouldn’t be possible without mass public participation.

It joins the RSPB’s launch of the world’s largest wildlife survey earlier this year as a fantastic example of how much we can add to the sum total of our collective knowledge when we all play our part.

The benefits we get from our natural environment and the responsibility to protect it cross borders and Departments alike.

This is an issue for the Devolved Administrations and the whole of Government too.

Our track record of working with the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland Governments through the long-standing UK Biodiversity Partnership has provided a strong model for partnership working across UK government and one I want us to build on further.

Defra is at the heart of a Government which aspires to be the greenest ever and we’ll be working closely with others across Whitehall to put the value of nature at the heart of policy making - after all, from health to crime to industry to the welfare of our citizens there is no area of Government on which our natural environment doesn’t have an impact.

Even relatively recent history shows what this kind of united approach can achieve - even in the face of serious odds.

Twenty years ago, when the last Environment White Paper was published, we were facing another environmental threat - the ever-growing hole in the ozone layer above Antarctica.

The world recognised that threat in time and took united action to end the production of CFC gasses.

Two decades later, we must again unite to deal with the new challenges of a warming planet, the destructions of ecosystems and the consequent loss of biodiversity - a reminder of how important it is to link our understanding of climate change to biodiversity.

2010 may be the International Year of Biodiversity, but it is also the year we know that - despite our efforts - we have failed to meet our current global target to significantly reduce the loss of our biodiversity expires.

This October, at Nagoya, we must set a new target and we must find meaningful ways to reverse the loss of biodiversity.

We must do this for the planet but we must also do this in the cause of enlightened self interest.

Because what happens in Madagascar, or India, or China or Brazil doesn’t stay there.

We all share a planet and we all share the very real economic costs when its natural protection is damaged.

This is true at every level from the micro to the macro, from the likelihood of flooding in Cumbria and Tewkesbury to the threat of an increasingly warming planet on global food security.

I am cautiously optimistic.

We have already achieved so much.

At Copenhagen, there were firm international commitments to reduce deforestation and make this a priority.

In June, at the International Whaling Commission in Morocco, when we managed to ensure that the moratorium on whaling stayed.

And this month at the European Parliament, which formally voted to adopt the Due Diligence Regulation - closing the door firmly in the face of illegal timber entering EU markets.

Both at home and abroad, the direction we are travelling in is the right one.

But our pace is too slow - unless we prioritise our natural assets we risk watching our hoped-for destination disappear before we can reach it.

Our natural environment is incredibly generous - it provides us with goods and services worth trillions of pounds at no cost.

All it asks in return is that we allow it the ability to function.

If we degrade it to the point that its ability to mitigate the effects of climate change, purify our air and water, and keep us healthy is lost, there will be a heavy price to pay.

And our children and their children will be the ones to pay it.

We must be the generation to draw a line in the sand - that says ‘no more’.

And then we must begin the task of re-drawing that line, restoring and recapitalising the natural environment on which we depend for the air we breathe, the water we drink and the food we eat.

Your contributions to this discussion paper will be invaluable to that process.

I encourage you to take this opportunity to give us the benefit of your knowledge, your expertise and your vision as we shape the future nature of England.

Thank you

The discussion document aims to encourage debate about how best we protect and enhance our natural environment, and the valuable services we derive from it. We are looking for a wide range of views on all of the issues set out in this document, or any others that you think we have missed. The deadline for responses to this document is 30 October 2010 and details of how to respond can be found via www.defra.gov.uk/environment/natural/

Published 26 July 2010