WWF: Chancellor Osborne's environmental neglect costs UK billions

The recurring floods in Britain are likely to be due to lack of investment in preventative measures. Photo: FAEP (commons.wikimedia.org).
The recurring floods in Britain are likely to be due to lack of investment in preventative measures. Photo: FAEP (commons.wikimedia.org).
WWF-UK is calling on the Chancellor of the Exchequer to put the potential risks the economy faces from environmental damage at the heart of the Budget.

The Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) says that the evidence shows that economic costs of neglecting our natural assets can no longer be ignored. Mismanagement of river catchments is a major contributing factor to flooding, which is estimated to have cost the country at least £5 billion this winter alone. The economic value of the e?ect of small particulate pollution on mortality in the United Kingdom was around £16 billion in 2008 alone, equivalent to 29,000 premature deaths. The charity also says that £1.4 billion additional annual revenues could be expected if the country's ?sh stocks were able to recover to the average levels seen before the 1970s.

The WWF-UK report, entitled Greener Budget, published this week, outlines how the Treasury could use a new ‘stress test’ to assess, for example, the consequences for economic and other human activities on the environment productivity, and propose remedial action to be undertaken by government departments. 

The organisation also proposes that a business-focussed Natural Capital Task Force is needed to identify how the private sector can lead better management of natural resources, incentivising innovation and investment in a business-friendly way. It is calling on the Chancellor to legislate for climate and natural capital-related financial risk disclosures by financial companies, on a mandatory comply or explain basis.

Trevor Hutchings, Director of Advocacy at WWF-UK, said: “George Osborne recently spoke of an economic ‘cocktail of threats’ related to short-term falls in commodity prices and stock markets, and yet he’s said little of the trinity of longer-term risks posed by environmental degradation, resource scarcity and climate change.

“The Chancellor should use the Budget to report on the contribution that the natural environment makes to the UK economy, the risks to businesses and individuals associated with environmental damage, and the measures needed to maintain the healthy natural environment upon which our prosperity depends.”

WWF Ambassador Lord Adair Turner said: “In the wake of the Paris agreement, and with the impact of climate change on homes and businesses becoming impossible to ignore, creating a green economy through smarter use of taxes and targeted public spending should be a far higher priority for government. Free markets won’t deliver this on their own. The Treasury needs to take a hard look at how we can use all available policy levers to drive this change, starting with this year’s Budget.”

Research conducted for the government’s Natural Capital Committee suggests that investments in natural capital – including the adaptation of England’s farmland to provide a range of benefits from peatlands, forests and grasslands, as well as restoring fish stocks – would generate economic benefits.