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GE 2017

Call me a silly cow but I’m excited about this election because I don’t think it’s only about Brexit!

I think it’s about making a decision on what role we want for the public sector and policy in all areas of government. It’s about the vision for the kind of country we want to live in. A good Brexit deal will then be one which helps us the most in making that vision reality.

It is also for this reason that I’ve read the main parties’ manifestos and will be writing a series on their coverage of environmental issues and policies.

I did this back in 2005. It was the first election I could vote in, in these pastures.

In 2010, I only searched for some key words through the texts.

This year….did I say I am excited about this election?!

So, every day this week you will get a review of the environmental pledges of a political party.  I’ll add the links here as they come online.

Conservative Party manifesto 2017 – environment overview

Labour Party manifesto 2017 – environment overview

Liberal Democrat manifesto 2017 – environment overview

UKIP manifesto 2017 – environment overview

Green Party manifesto 2017 – environment overview

For a final word from me on the manifestos click here

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A blog by Limu:

A juxtaposition of announcements on how short-sighted political leadership is missing the evidence on the value of the environment were published last week.

Europe’s new structures battered the environment into a market defined role. A letter to the new European Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Commissioner emphasises a reporting line to a new vice-president for growth, jobs, competitiveness and investment.

On the same day a medical doctor at Aston University came up with an excellent quote on walking as ‘a magic pill’ to slow ageing (it’ll prevent obesity and diabetes, lower the risk of some cancers, and relieve depression… really magic). The evidence on accessible natural green space being a key way to motivate exercise existed 10 years ago and has strengthened since.

I think that regarding the environment as just another tool for expanding GDP, weakening its protection, is wrong. It makes me sick. It’ll make you sick too.

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Or should that be thought before food? Over the past week, the news has been full of stories surrounding the debate on eating meat. One article in particular has stirred up some interesting discussions in our paddocks – How safe is eating meat?

This article, based on academic studies, suggests that regularly eating around 85 grams of processed red meat, say 2 slices of bacon, is associated with a 20% increased mortality risk.  An increased mortality risk of 20% means a person’s risk of dying over the next year is 20% higher than if they did not eat the processed meat. Alternatively, as suggested by Prof Sir David Speigelhalter of Cambridge University, we can expect that someone who eats a bacon sandwich every day to live, on average, two years less than someone who does not (if the studies are right of course).  Pro rata, this is equivalent to losing an hour of your life for every bacon sandwich you eat. Hold on to this thought…

So let’s see what the true-er cost of a bacon sandwich would be:

A common concept used to evaluate health impacts is the ‘Value of Statistical Life Year’ (VOLY).  This measures individuals’ willingness to pay for an increase of 1 additional year of life expectancy.  VOLY, however does not provide a measure of the quality of life.

The VOLY in Europe as suggested by the Commission is ~£40,000*. So, the cost of losing an hour of your life per bacon sandwich can be calculated by dividing this value by the total number of hours in a year (8,760 hours) which is ~£4.56. Add this to the average cost of a bacon sandwich along Mortimer Street (£2.52) and the true-er cost of a bacon sandwich is closer to £7.08.

£7.08** for a bacon sandwich!!!

 

*€50,000; using a simple exchange rate of €1 = £0.80 this equals £39,983.

**This is a simple calculation that ignores many factors that would be included in a ‘serious’ valuation. We just wanted to play around with some numbers that might just get you thinking before gobbling up your next bacon sandwich!

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I’ve joined the herd from the United States, where, painfully, the decades-old debate over whether human-induced climate change exists continues. There is common sentiment shared by those who aren’t selective about whether to believe science (and so are on the side of believing its human-induced existence) that the conversation must be shifted from a debate about whether or not it exists, or is in fact human-induced, to one which involves a serious discussion of strategies to meet emission targets and stabilize the climate. Here in the UK, the occurrence of extreme weather events (expected to increase in frequency and intensity due to climate change) such as the recent landfall of the ex-hurricane Bertha, which saw some areas receiving more rain in 24 hours than they would expect in the entire month of August, further emphasises the need for a strategy.

Meeting the internationally agreed target of limiting the increase in global mean surface temperature to less than 2ºC, will require that global net emissions of greenhouse gases approach zero by the second half of the century. In other words, the profound transformation of political, societal and energy systems need be agreed upon and implemented in a smaller time frame than the ‘is there, isn’t there’ debate has existed.

The Deep Decarbonisation Pathways report, released in June by the UN secretary general, focuses on technically feasible pathways to deep decarbonisation with the aim of achieving the emission reductions consistent with meeting this international target. Strategies for twelve countries are highlighted, including the UK.

The report identifies the UK’s major drivers of future carbon emissions as economic growth and population growth, and explains their role within the strategy. The pathway presented for the UK allows for economic growth of between 2.2% – 2.5%, and focuses on the three sectors constituting the largest sources of emissions: power generation, transport, and buildings. The stages identified include the decarbonisation of the power industry by 2030, with low-carbon electricity allowing for emission reductions in end-use sectors (replacing gas use in buildings and liquid fuels in transport) in the years 2030-2050. Along with fuel switching to electrification within transport (65% of car travel to be met by electric vehicles by 2050) and buildings (20 million homes switching to heat pumps and heating district schemes by 2050), efficiency and technology retrofits by 2030 are also envisaged.

The report should draw scrutiny and incite debate, and is self-admittedly incomplete and preliminary. It presents feasible actions, timelines and scenarios, but more importantly can stimulate the necessary shift in the conversation towards zero carbon economy strategies.

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The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) for Business Coalition recently rebranded itself to the Natural Capital Coalition. This is one example of how the term ‘Natural Capital’ is increasing in popularity…but what is it? Essentially, it is the goods and services that nature provides us. An informative and accessible blog post on the ICAEW* website highlights that, other than sustaining life on Earth, nature provides us with goods and services that people value and should really recognise. There is a business workshop being held on 3April – organised by UKNEE** and University College London – that will be discussing the latest research in how businesses can incorporate natural capital into their accounting structures so that its value can be recognised.

For example, as the UK’s current flooding demonstrates, woodlands and other habitats are good at regulating water and slowing the uptake into rivers.

 

We invest in human capital and physical capital because they are productive; so by conserving their condition, they will continue to generate goods and services for us. Just as by training your employees and purchasing new machinery you are likely to generate more revenue as a business, if we agree that Natural Capital exists, why should we not also invest in improving it? For example, by investing more in the management of woodlands and upstream habitats mentioned previously, one is able to reduce the risk of flooding further downstream. A post in The Guardian by George Monbiot sheds light on this factor in more detail with regards to the recent UK floods.

Often, as the example above illustrates, the benefits of improving natural capital are public, but there are occasions where businesses can identify natural resources that generate a revenue for them at a private level (or reduce revenue if they were to be removed­­). Therefore, instead of having almost a zero value in private decision-making, nature can be recognised as an input in the production process, just like human and physical capital are.

*ICAEW (Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales)

** UK Network of Environmental Economists

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The recently-finished Medmerry managed realignment scheme, on the South Coast, is an excellent example of how society can work with nature for the benefit of all parties.

The £28m scheme involved building 7km of sea walls up to 2km inland and then  ‘making a hole’ in the existing sea wall, thus allowing the seawater to naturally come into the land. This will now protect over 300 homes, local caravan parks and businesses, a water treatment plant and a main road from a once-in-a-thousand year flood. This area was previously prone to flooding; therefore the avoided damage from this scheme will be valuable.

An important reason for the water being allowed to come inland was to create a 180Ha saltwater marshland, thus offsetting the habitats that were lost in the flood protection projects of larger cities such as Southampton and Portsmouth. The creation of this rare saltwater marsh will bring in numerous species. As well as the wildlife reserve, footpaths, cycle paths and bridleways will be opened. As a result, nature-based tourism in the area is hoped to increase, which will benefit the local economy.

By working with nature, rather than against it, the project has benefited both humans and the environment. The scheme has given a home, or resting spot, to wildlife, whilst providing recreational, protection, participation, and tourism benefits to the local community. It is an excellent example of how incorporating nature-based values into decision making can improve society as a whole.

This is the biggest scheme of its kind in the UK to date and it will be observed closely to see if it can be applied to other regions that are threatened by rising waters.

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The Pitcairn Islands are a British Overseas Territory, comprising of four small islands in a remote area of the Pacific Ocean. The permanent population of around 50 people all reside on Henderson Island. It is most famous for being the last settling point where mutineers on the Bounty settled in the 1780s; the current inhabitants are direct descendants of these hardy few.

At the 3rd International Marine Protected Areas Congress in Marseille, France, this week and on the PEW Charitable Trusts website, is the proposed Pitcairn Marine Reserve- which plans to establish one of the World’s largest protected marine reserves. Based on its 2012 report, on the economics of the proposed Pitcairn Reserve, eftec has contributed to this discussion.

The conclusions from the report helped lay the foundation for the current proposal, Protect Pitcairn: An Underwater Bounty.

In our report, we devised and compared 3 development options open to Pitcairn.

  1. The Baseline: where the current situation continues (no marine reserve and no fishing licenses).
  2. Marine reserve: the waters up to 200 miles off-shore, equating to 836,000km2 (or the size of Alaska and California combined) is established as a reserve and only local artisanal fishing is allowed.
  3. Exploitation: no reserve is created. Instead, a fishing license regime develops, thereby allowing commercial access to Pitcairn’s waters.

Currently, the islanders fish in a traditional fashion for subsistence and local trade, and there are very few commercial fishing vessels in the proposed area due to its remoteness.

The report estimated that if Pitcairn were to open their waters to fishing, and sell fishing licenses, it could only generate around $(US) 32,000 p.a.

eftec’s report argued that it is likely that the benefits of establishing the marine reserve would far outweigh this revenue.

The proposed marine reserve would significantly enhance Pitcairn’s image on the global stage. The resulting increase in tourism, particularly in numbers of cruise ships visiting, could generate significant revenue for such a small economy. Furthermore, branding itself as one of the World’s largest marine reserves would enable the island to increase the price of existing products.

As well as monetary benefits, there would be substantial non-market values from establishing the marine reserve. The National Geographic expedition in 2012 claimed that the ocean around Pitcairn is how it was a thousand years ago, with pristine reefs and clear waters, visibility is 75 metres- the highest in the Pacific. The team’s 16 underwater cameras, each covering a few square metres for 5 hours, saw 57 species of fish- 8 of which were new to science! Imagine how many more are lurking in the 836,000km2 of water that could be protected.

Therefore, the unexploited marine ecosystem may provide essential services of great value to the World, beyond what we can currently monetise. The islanders voted unanimously in favour for the ‘Protect Pitcairn: An Underwater Bounty’ to be presented to the British government for approval.

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blog pic

A shipping lane is being proposed which would go through the Great Barrier Reef so as to improve access to a mining complex.

We must ask some questions that help decide whether the proposed lane should go through the reef or not. Who will benefit or lose out in each scenario, when, and for how long, and by how much?

In economic analysis, as £1 now is worth more than £1 in the future, future costs and benefits are discounted to create a Present Value for each impact, which you can then weigh against each other.  For a project to be recommended on economic analysis grounds only, its benefits over time need to outweigh its costs. In economic terminology Net Present Value (benefits minus costs) > 0 or Benefit Cost Ratio > 1. There are of course many other considerations in making a decision about a project that economic analysis can capture. But let’s see how we can think about this project if we were attempting to do an economic analysis (cost benefit analysis in this case).

Let’s briefly look at the case where the shipping lane does go through the reef. This will not cost the company anything extra than they had already planned. It may, however, have an economic cost to society (a negative externality); reef damage, caused by the ships, will reduce tourism in the area- a huge source of local GDP and employment in Queensland.

We can also look at the case where the shipping lane is diverted to avoid the reef. The tourist numbers and revenues don’t change, but the diversion would cost extra money to the mining and shipping companies in the form of fuel and time.

The comparison of cost of diversion and avoided damage (benefit of diversion) to the reef can conclude:

(a)    if the cost of diverting ships is less than the lost money from tourism and other marketable impacts, the shipping lane should be diverted.

(b)   if the cost of diverting ships outweighs the lost money from tourism and other marketable impacts; the direct lane should go ahead on efficiency grounds.

But hang on a minute, it’s not that simple!

We have to think about the characteristics of the reef that generate values other than the market price and revenues. It’s these social values that are not paid for in a market that are often most important to people and are what make the Great Barrier Reef, well, GREAT.

It’s not that different to what people care about when their house burns down. Do people care about the games console or the expensive pair of new jeans? No, it’s the family photos, the postcards from friends, and the paintings your son made when he was 4 years old that hang in the kitchen.

The same goes for the reef; it’s the bio-diversity, cultural heritage, national pride, the wonder and mystery, and the sheer size of it that are the most ‘valuable’.

These characteristics lead to types of value that cannot be bought, such as: Option value (I may be willing to pay to have the option to see the Reef in the future, even though I have no intention going now); Existence value (I may be willing to pay for the knowledge that the Reef exists without any intention to ever see); and Bequest value (I may be willing to pay so that my descendants can see the Reef).

By including these values, we can build a better understanding of the Total Economic Value of the Reef. ‘But how do you measure them if we can’t buy or sell them?’ I hear you cry. This is where environmental economists earn their money; they realise that these values may be hidden within the price of another good/service that is bought and sold and thus can extract it. Another method is to survey people’s preferences of different scenarios regarding the environmental asset and their associated income in each scenario.

By eliciting these values, we can monetise damage done to the reef that isn’t seen through the market and incorporate it into the decision process.

Accounting for some leeway either side, if the true cost of having a lane directly through the reef i.e. losing all values associated with reef damage, is more than the cost to companies of circumventing the reef, then there is a compelling argument that the direct lane should be shelved.

So what if, even after including these non-marketed values, the damage to the reef is less costly than the cost to the companies of bypassing it?

In reality, we can’t monetise everything and we are never 100% certain what the consequences of reef damage is in the long term; perhaps, with data only available in the future, the costs are found to be so much more than previously thought. In that case, instead of attempting to put a market value on certain attributes, we could just say that, ‘some things are critical for nature and for the people, both now and in the future, and should be protected’.

Yes, economic development may bring us monetary wealth, but perhaps we lose immaterial wealth in the process in terms of wellbeing, morals and principles. Some things are irreplaceable, and should remain that way.

Here is a link to the online petition against the lane.

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Sir,

As the streets of Turkish cities host horrific scenes of police brutality against unarmed civilians, in the wake of peaceful protests against destruction of one of the last green areas in central Istanbul, the Turkish Parliament is preparing to rush through a vote on a policy that will allow much more widespread destruction of nature.

The Habitats and Biodiversity Bill is based on the European Union Habitats and Wild Birds Directives, but with two vital differences.

In EU member states the criterion of ‘over-riding public interest’ for allowing developments in conservation areas is applied through long-established systems of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), stakeholder engagement and public consultation.  But the definition of ‘overriding public interest’ is vague in the Turkish bill, there is no system of consultation in the country, and EIAs, if they are carried out at all, are often conducted long after a development project starts.

Secondly, for protected land, the EU also requires that there be ‘No Alternatives’ for siting the development.  The draft bill in the Turkish Parliament, by contrast, will simply abolish the National Parks law. The draft bill has been opposed to by 113 NGOs, and the European Commission itself described the draft bill as “worrying” (Turkey Progress Report, 9 November 2010), but the criticisms have been ignored.

This highly controversial legislation is being rushed through the Turkish Parliament, under cover of civil unrest, and represents a catastrophe for nature conservation in Turkey.  As natural and social scientists leading European research in biodiversity conservation and the human benefits derived from natural systems, we support our Turkish academic and NGO colleagues in deploring this myopic legislation and calling on the Turkish government to redraft this legislation taking account of their legitimate concerns.

Signed: coordinators and researchers at the following European Commission funded biodiversity related research projects.

Ms Ece Ozdemiroglu, Managing Director, economics for the environment consultancy,http://www.eftec.co.uk, United Kingdom

Dr Robert Tinch, Brussels Representative, eftec and OPERAs project, Belgium

Prof Dr Wouter de Groot, BIOMOT project, the Netherlands

Dr Rob Bugter, BESAFE Project, the Netherlands

Prof Dr Josef Settele, SCALES, Germany

Dr Sybille van den Hove, SPRIAL project, Spain

Dr Rupert Read, University of East Anglia, United Kingdom

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This week the UK Natural Capital Committee (more info here) released its first State of Natural Capital report with little fanfare.  It achieved a small amount of press attention, with only four environmental news outlets covering the report (according to Google News). A damp squib in terms of press coverage, which was depressing to those immersed in these concepts and convinced this is the right way forward.

It may be healthy to take a step back and a realistic view on the popularity of Natural Capital as a concept. I used Google Trends to gauge public awareness and interest in the concept.  In order for a fair comparison I compared “Natural Capital” against “Ecosystem Services”  – another environmental economics buzz word.

The Google Trend graph is presented below, with Natural Capital represented in blue and Ecosystem Services  in red:Image

Ecosystem services appears to be getting more ‘heat’ than Natural Capital, despite being around as an idea for less time. Interest in ecosystem services are increasing, while interest in Natural Capital has been flat (or even declining) over the past seven years or so.

Possible reasons for this trend are that ecosystem services as a concept is mutli-disciplinary friendly and less contentious. Consequently it has been adopted across the environmental sector.  Natural Capital, although intertwined with the ideas of ecosystem services, is more difficult to define, and although popular with business may not be popular across the environmental sector.

Perhaps the difference in adoption and interest has its source in concepts themselves. Ecosystem services as a term seeks to capture the benefits flowing from nature without trying to define nature itself. Natural Capital as a concept, shoehorns the matter that makes up nature into a bleak financial framework. For the lay person and those nervous about the ‘commodification’ of nature, Natural Capital is perhaps a step too far.

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