The latest set of UK natural capital accounts have just been published, estimating the volume of services and value of Britain’s natural capital between 1997 and 2015. According to the accounts, the partial asset value of UK natural capital was estimated to be £761 billion in 2015. 58% of this value was attributable to cultural and regulating services (recreation, pollution removal and carbon sequestration). In 2015, 9 times as much energy was produced from renewable sources than was produced in 1997.

The new figures are only a partial estimate of the value of the UK’s natural capital. Many ecosystem services provided by natural assets in the UK are not yet estimated and the total value is expected to be higher. For example, while they estimate the value UK nature provides as carbon ‘sinks’ the figures do not estimate the value of nature in regulating water flows to prevent flooding.

Benefits generated by natural capital assets which are not currently measured include:

  • Waste water cleaning
  • Mediation of smell, noise and pollution removed by water
  • Flood, erosion and landslide protection
  • Temperature regulation
  • Water flow control, flood protection and water condition regulation

The ONS said the monetary accounts should be interpreted as a partial or minimum value of UK natural capital. The forthcoming UK Natural Capital Roadmap 2020 will explain the priorities for the development of the Natural Capital accounting project, including addressing current data gaps.

The Government’s recently published 25 Year Environment Plan restated the government’s commitment to working with the ONS to develop a full set of natural capital accounts for the UK that are widely understood.

Volume of water being abstracted is falling, indicating more efficient use of water

According to the bulletin, water abstracted in the UK has fallen by 18% since 2000. The ONS said a possible reason for the decline is more efficient and sustainable use of water, as advocated in the Water Act 2003. In addition, fewer licences have been granted for water abstraction, with fewer being issued annually in the last decade than between 1997 and 2002.

The value of water abstraction fell in 2015 to £588 million, compared to £1.2 billion in 2014. The ONS said the trend mimics declining physical water abstraction volumes and can also be attributed to higher operating costs.

Future work is required to better value the range of services relating to water provided by the natural environment, the bulletin says.

Energy produced in UK from renewable sources has increased dramatically 

On energy, the bulletin says that energy produced in the UK from renewable sources has increased dramatically. In 2015, for the first time the value of energy generated in the UK by renewable resources was greater than that of energy produced by UK oil and gas resources, with nine times as much energy was produced from renewable sources than was produced in 1997.

The volume of energy produced from UK oil and gas resources has fallen since 1999 and production is expected to continue to fall going forward. The ONS said that national and international incentives, including the EU Renewable Energy Directive and Renewable Obligation (RO) target, have helped contribute towards the increase.

Commenting on today’s figures, senior economist Emily Connors said:

“While GDP gives a good estimate of the value of the UK’s market economy, it does not capture the full value of the UK. Today’s figures help paint a wider picture by valuing the UK’s countryside and wildlife.”

The accounts are produced alongside the habitat accounts for farmland, freshwater and woodland, published in July 2017. As well as non-monetary and monetary service flow estimates, the habitat based accounts also include information about size (extent) and quality (condition) of particular natural assets.

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