Across the UK, and throughout the world, ecosystems are being degraded. Ecosystem services such as pollination, soil fertility, clean water and carbon cycles are critical to farming and the survival of humankind, yet they’re being taken for granted and lost.
In June 2011, the Government’s white paper ‘The Natural Choice – securing the value of nature’, and the UK National Ecosystem Assessment (NEA) set out economic ways to protect these services and analyse the UK’s natural environment in terms of the financial benefits it provides.
Pricing up ‘ecosystem services’ certainly opens up opportunities to ensure that our natural resources are better valued and protected within the economy. But the new ecosystem services markets this creates could loosen important environmental regulations. This is evident in the EU Emissions Trading Scheme, where unintended effects have given the biggest polluting corporations the ability to carry on emitting CO2 if they buy CO2 ‘equivalent’ reductions credits from companies that operate in the global south.
An alternative viewpoint is gaining momentum; valuing nature primarily for its intrinsic qualities, not just because it is useful or profitable. Without an intrinsic value of nature, only the symptoms will be tackled, not the causes of environmental exploitation.
The Food Ethics Council is concerned by the white paper’s emphasis on nature’s economic value, and its belief in the compatibility of economic growth and environmental protection.
We urge the government to: