If you were to advise the ‘anti-growth coalition’ about how to undermine economic growth, what would you say?
You might suggest enacting the new Prime Minister’s environmental policies, which include easing planning rules in new ‘investment zones’, reviewing environmental regulations that protect vulnerable habitats and wildlife, reintroducing fracking and scrapping reforms to farming schemes that reward biodiversity.
Why would this undermine growth? Because nature is the source of our wealth. It is foundational to economic growth. From the air we breathe and the food we eat, to the resources we use every day, the natural world is the basis of our prosperity. Our economy depends on nature and a Nature Positive economy is a growth economy.
So, in the words of the National Trust, launching a full frontal “attack on nature” is about as anti-growth as it gets.
One would hope that a Prime Minister so obsessed with growth would know this, especially as she was part of the Conservative government that commissioned and endorsed the Dasgupta Review, which stated:
“Our economies, livelihoods and well-being all depend on our most precious asset: Nature.”
Professor Dasgupta’s work was a landmark review into the ‘Economics of Biodiversity’ and led to the government committing to a ‘Nature Positive’ future, which in practice means reversing the decline in our natural world to leave it in a better state than it is now.
Ironically, Liz Truss used to wax lyrical about all of this. As Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, she gave a speech in 2015 championing the value and importance of the environment. She praised the environmental progress made by the government while Britain was “still growing faster than any other major economy for two years running”. She went on to say that “we are learning to understand and quantify the benefits we get from nature, to treat rivers, trees and bees as national assets just as much as infrastructure like the M25, Manchester Airport or the Forth Rail Bridge.”
Although having been given the keys to Number 10, she seems to have jettisoned this for a policy agenda which directly contradicts the Conservative Party’s 2019 manifesto commitment to be “stewards of the environment” that will “protect and restore our natural environment”.
This assault on nature is all the more dangerous because of the perilous state of our natural world. Published last week, the WWF’s Living Planet Report shows that human activity has driven almost 70% of wildlife to extinction in just 50 years.
Far from being stewards of nature, we’ve acted like pirates. We’ve been exploitative and unsustainable in how we use the resources that nature gives us. As a result, many of our natural habitats have been so degraded that they’re in danger of passing ‘tipping points’ beyond which it will be almost impossible to come back from, something which should give Liz Truss’ pollsters déjà vu.
For a second, third and fourth opinion on what the government’s reforms would mean for nature you could ask the Wildlife Trusts, or Natural England, or the RSPB. For the masochists, it’s worth reading this damning verdict from the RSPB in full (hell hath no fury like a twitcher scorned, it would seem).
If the UK government genuinely cares about economic growth and, crucially, long-term economic success, they need to fix their domestic agenda by reversing their current policies and properly accounting for the value of nature.
This issue isn’t just domestic, it’s also international, because nature’s tipping points won’t respect borders. Therefore, the government should show leadership by championing an economic approach that integrates the value of nature at this year’s global climate and biodiversity conferences in Egypt and Montreal.
But leadership means leading by example. How can they urge Brazil to agree to limit Amazon deforestation when they’re creating nature-degrading investment zones in rural Britain? How can they urge countries to clamp down on illegal poaching of endangered species while they roll back wildlife protections?
The UK government needs to remember that a Nature Positive economy is a growth economy and urgently reverse course. Maybe Liz Truss can remind... Liz Truss.