Defra must regulate if it is to develop environmental funding through PES

cornRegulation is needed to develop environmental funding through Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES). While Defra is to be credited for taking leadership in understanding the importance of ecosystem services to environmental policy it is accused of dragging its feet when it comes to enabling delivery of better bio-diverse responses.

Defra has released a ‘Synergy report’ which reviews how its agencies Natural England, the Environment Agency and the Forestry Commission can better address the policy aims of Biodiversity 2020 in the context of two of its other policy planks: EU’s Water Framework Directive and the UK’s Coastal Risk Management Programme.

Managing biodiversity and the movement of water through our landscapes and around our coasts have many obvious synergies and interdependencies, but the management of these operate through several agencies of government and local stakeholder organisations and groups. The review looks at how these activities can be better informed and engaged and not surprisingly identifies that the three national environmental programmes could be better aligned to achieve multiple and beneficial outcomes. It finds significant opportunity for improving the common evidence base between the principal agencies and to build a cross-programme planning framework. It identifies opportunities to better align stakeholders and to target specific action on the ground to meet multiple objectives.

It also identifies gaps where Government needs to show leadership and commitment so that others can operate more effectively. The report identifies that ‘the Defra network lacks a common delivery model drawing these programmes together’ and requires ‘a more robust direction from Defra to its delivery agencies’.

It also identifies particular regulatory gaps.  One of which is the lack of clarity around two broad principals of policy; the polluter pays principal and the payment for ecosystems services (PES)  which has been  seen by the government as a key element in taking forward the ecosystem service approach. The lack of clarity over the demarcation between ‘polluter-pays’ (through regulation) and ‘beneficiary pays’ for environmental benefits  puts at risk the potential to provide a stable and widely-understood foundation on which environment management  and novel funding  mechanisms can be built.  The report points to evidence that there is only a tentative approach to PES markets and that this is due to concerns that beneficiaries will end up paying for the polluting activities of land owners which should be within the regulatory baseline. This lack of clarity undermines business confidence within major relevant sectors, such as the water utilities companies which rely on water captured across the UK’s landscapes. The report states that these regulatory gaps will need to be addressed if beneficiary-pays initiatives are to be widely developed to reach a ‘critical mass’ so that they are a commonplace feature of the delivery landscape.

The report  highlights positive actions where Government (Defra) is encouraging and incentivising actions by other parties; including changes to the agri-environment schemes for landowners; advice on ‘catchment sensitive farming’ and better alignment of grants from the Forestry Commission. It points to the potential to improve land management decision making based on better, shared evidence to identify options which meet multiple objectives and tiering responses through collaborative agreements which manage the principal risks in a simpler and more effective approach.

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