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Jeremy's Blog 29th January 2021: Facts for Environmental Decisions

This article by Jeremy Moody first appeared in the CAAV e-Briefing of 28th January 2021.

While the Government has again delayed the important Environment Bill, pressures accumulate for change in environmental practice, for climate change and biodiversity. On the day that the Bill stalled, BlackRock, the world largest asset manager, asked companies in which it invests to disclose their plans to be net zero by 2050: “There is no company whose business model won’t be profoundly affected by the transition to a net-zero economy.” It told clients that companies that do not act would be seen as risks, with their valuations suffering in the market. The Prince of Wales’ Terra Carta initiative draws the chief executives of many global corporations into supporting biodiversity.

If the goals are perhaps clear and more imperative, achieving them relies on useful and accurate information to inform actions and judge results. This is as material for the rural economy as elsewhere. The Treasury’s Net Zero Review Interim Report implies significant costs for land management and housing, reporting the average rural household having a 35 per cent higher carbon footprint than an urban one, essentially because of heating, not transport.

The Government is consulting on requiring mortgage lenders to take account of the energy efficiency of their secured portfolio, with some signs of that beginning to develop anyway. Sadly, the measure for this is the Energy Performance Certificate, created by a 2002 EU Directive and now needing review to be fit for today’s purposes. The more EPCs are used to determine what can be let, the interest rate on a mortgage or qualification for grant aid, the more they must be accurate and useful. With anomalies evident to those managing property, the issues are:

  • its methodology in assessing properties, including traditionally constructed properties
  • whether EPCs do what is now needed, measure carbon emissions.

The CAAV is continuing to take these issues up with the Government.

Good knowledge is needed with the pressure for woodland planting. When trees are simply seen as the magic answer to carbon, such a change of land use requires greater understanding of what will be the right trees in the right place for a justifiable purpose. Kew Gardens’ scientists have laid out ten “golden rules” for this, on the “right trees, right place” principle, from protecting existing forests to future resilience and the need for income to exceed that from alternative uses. This is not just the conflict with peatland restoration or improving depleted soils but finding a proper commercial purpose for the trees and their management to support the best outcome over time.

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