It’s Sunday night and I’ve been reading the newly published Natural Capital Investment Plan (NCIP) for Surrey, produced by the Surrey Nature Partnership. It outlines ideas to build conservation projects, which can lever in financial investment via new funding mechanisms. The academic world has been grappling with Ecosystem Services and payment for these for some time.
In the background, Saving Capitalism is playing on Netflix. Robert Reich, using the themes from his book, explores the erosion of democratic accountability, inequality and the impacts on society. Although seemingly unrelated, both point towards similar ideas. We have for a long time, been exploiting resources, be those natural or social, without due regard for their systemic health.
The publication of the NCIP is timely. One of my thought projects currently, revolves around filling the funding gaps, created by economic policies based around austerity, with a particular focus on cultural ecosystem services in urban areas. Local authority parks and environment services have been dramatically cut; without statutory service protection their budgets are easy to undermine. Even services with statutory status are continuing to struggle with increases in demand. Levering in funding from the private sector, whilst mobilising volunteer labour, is seen as a priority for many.
How realistic this will be, with business communities anxious about the impact of Brexit, remains to be seen. Tackling the challenges faced by the environment sector, with significant budget constraints, will not be easy. There is already a substantial evidence base proving the multiple benefits of high-quality green infrastructure; from health benefits to climate change mitigation, economic uplift and returns, resilient habitats and recreational provision. Funding for green and blue infrastructure, and more broadly natural capital assets, consistently provide positive Return-On-Investments. These gains are however, normally spread across institutions and communities making monetary assessment difficult.
I’ll be following Surrey’s LNP closely, to see how this project progresses, whilst also working with colleagues to explore funding models and develop ideas to improve urban ecosystem services. Watch this space for updates.