Professor Ian Bateman

‘Government plans harm the environment and the economy’, argues influential researcher

Recent government plans make neither environmental nor economic sense, one of Exeter’s leading academics will warn at a key environment event next week.

Professor Ian Bateman OBE was a member of the Natural Capital Committee that advised seven former Environment Secretaries, including Liz Truss and Michael Gove, on a host of environmental initiatives including the government’s 25 Year Environment Plan.

This flagship environmental initiative emphasises how dependent the economy is on the environment and highlights that damage to the latter typically harms the former.

His pioneering research on ‘public money for public goods’, the idea that farm subsidies should be apportioned by how farmers’ land benefits the environment, is the cornerstone of the Environment Land Management Scheme and Environment Act 2021.

In his speech to the Green Alliance conference “Economic Prosperity: is it actually in our Nature?” Professor Bateman will warn that policies that portray environmental protections as a barrier to economic growth are “specious, wrong-headed and dangerous”.

“Wherever you are right now, just look around you … all economic output is just one or two steps from its origin in the natural environment,” he will say, before highlighting areas of current policy that he says will not only “degrade an already degraded environment”, but also “make absolutely no sense in terms of their economic impact”.

He identifies newly proposed Investment Zones, the government’s decision to award new licences to drill for oil and gas in the North Sea, a review of plans to overhaul farm subsidies through the Environment Land Management Scheme and the “flawed” implementation of the Biodiversity Net Gain scheme as particular areas of concern.

The government’s new Investment Zones seek to stimulate economic growth through “lower taxes and streamlined planning rules for specific sites”, but Professor Bateman will argue that they are likely to water down environmental protection within those zones while undermining competitiveness in UK areas that fall outside an Investment Zone.

Professor Bateman will also express concern at plans to ban solar projects from farmland and the decision to award up to 100 new drilling licences for oil and gas in the North Sea, saying that it can take as long as 13 years from initial exploration to landing a barrel of oil and pointing out that renewable energy already provides over 40% of the UK’s needs and provides cheaper electricity than oil or gas – while not damaging the climate.

“If we took just a fraction of the estimated £90bn that is being given to fossil fuel companies and instead invested that in renewables, the UK could have cheaper, independent and secure energy supplies that could never be held to ransom by some overseas power and would massively contribute towards avoiding the environmental and human disaster of climate change,” he will say.

Plans to review the Environment Land Management Scheme (ELMs), the replacement for the EU Common Agricultural Policy are another example, he says, of “environmental destruction which makes no economic sense”.

A report earlier this year estimated that delaying ELMS by two years would reduce the savings in agricultural emissions delivered by 2035 by half, and Professor Bateman will argue that any return to a policy that pays farmers a flat rate for their land per hectare would “massively benefit rich, large landowners who previously took over three quarter of the funds under that approach”, and unlike under ELMS, which Professor Bateman himself helped devise, there will be “no incentive for farmers to excel at producing environmental benefits”.

He also calls for a strengthening of rules over the implementation of biodiversity net gain – the principle that developers compensate for the harm done to biodiversity through their activities – saying that planting “a few trees at the bottom of the gardens of the new houses or a pond encased in clipped grass and tarmac forfeits the real environmental gains which this policy could deliver.

“Targeting the policy on those areas that give the best benefits for wildlife as well as communities that suffer the most degraded environments could transfer this policy into a significant force for good.”

In the wide-ranging talk, Professor Bateman will look at how nature-based solutions can be embedded profitably across national and local policy thinking, drawing on his vast experience to appeal to policymakers to choose economic policies that recognise that the health of the environment is the number one driver of the health of the economy and people’s quality of life.

Economic prosperity: is it actually in our Nature? will be held online at 2pm on Monday 17 October. Register here.

Date: 14 October 2022

Read more University News