June 5, 2014 12:19 am

Environment body must be preserved, say MPs

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A government committee set up to boost understanding about the value of natural assets such as forests and rivers should have its own life extended, say a group of MPs.

The Natural Capital Committee, chaired by Professor Dieter Helm, of the University of Oxford, was set up in 2012 with a three-year remit that ends just before the general election in May next year.

It has completed two reports on the state of so-called natural capital, or naturally occurring elements of value to people, such as forests, water or land that provide food, clean air and energy.

Its work has highlighted gaps in the available data on these factors and called for a 25-year plan to plug the holes so that robust data are available for government decisions.

The government has yet to respond in detail to the NCC’s reports, according to MPs on the Environmental Audit Select Committee, who say the NCC should be put on a permanent statutory footing.

“It is important that the momentum behind the Natural Capital Committee’s work is maintained,” said Joan Walley, who chairs the select committee.

“With its current remit finishing at the time of the general election, there is a risk that the required longer-term changes it identifies will be overlooked.”

Some environmental campaign groups agree.

“Failure to value our natural resources, and make them central to government decision-making, is manifestly bad for the environment, but it’s bad economics and bad politics, too,” said Karen Ellis, chief economic adviser at WWF-UK.

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