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Natural Capital and Traditional Nature Conservation Approaches Should Work Together in the UK



A new government approach is needed to reverse the continuing decline of the UK’s natural environment, says a new report by think tank Green Alliance. Nature conservation and the more recently developed natural capital thinking both offer ways to tackle issues such as species decline and soil degradation. Until now, they have been widely viewed as conflicting. Natural capital is an economic approach based on valuing the benefits society receives from natural assets such as soil, water and biodiversity. In contrast, nature conservation recognises the intrinsic value of the environment and seeks to protect it from the negative impacts of the economy.

This report suggests that a new comprehensive strategy is needed, combining the strengths of both approaches. This aligned approach would use new tools such as natural capital accounting and market-based policies to support companies in reducing their environmental impacts and investing in natural services. It would work alongside traditional conservation instruments such as regulation, grants and the creation of nature reserves.

It concludes that:

  • The natural capital approach can drive new business investment to protect and maintain natural systems.
  • The strongest business case for investment is in protecting or maintaining natural assets like soil and water. The case for business investment is weaker with assets like biodiversity, which benefit society at large.
  • The scale of environmental decline in the UK requires the restoration of natural systems at landscape scale. Nature conservation approaches will often be the cheapest and most effective way to deliver this.
  • Aligning the two approaches would increase the total resources available and lead to greater protection and accelerated restoration of the UK’s natural environment.

Commenting on the report’s findings, Sue Armstrong Brown, policy director at Green Alliance, said:

“The natural capital approach can have real benefits but it can’t do everything. Nature conservation is vital to ensure that our environment is protected and restored. But deploying it at the scale needed has proved challenging. As the government considers its 25 year plan for nature, it has a golden opportunity to align new natural capital ideas with tried and tested conservation tools, and create a more powerful framework to reverse the decline.”

Dame Fiona Kendrick, chairman & CEO, Nestlé UK & Ireland, said:

“It is imperative that we act now to protect, manage and restore the UK’s natural environment. Natural capital mechanisms and nature conservation practices provide complementary approaches that can be deployed together, by companies and governments.”

David Fursdon, farmer and Chair of the 2013 Future of Farming Review, said:

“Farmers and landowners are of course interested in the long term maintenance of their assets, including their environmental assets. But it is sometimes difficult to see how this can be afforded, particularly when it does not impact positively on their bottom line in the short term. Natural capital accounting could well be a way of engaging more of them in this process, particularly where the value can be identified, so I welcome the joint approach proposed by this report.”

Paul Morling, principal economist at RSPB, said:

“This report explains why it is crucial to harness both ecological and economic perspectives if we are to reverse the accelerating loss of nature. Conservationists have long known that nature needs people to thrive and natural capital thinking is making it clear that human well-being and prosperity are equally dependent on nature’s life support systems.  As this report suggests, success will depend on finding a synthesis of traditional conservation interventions and new measures to maintain our ecological assets.”

Jonathan Hughes, CEO of the Scottish Wildlife Trusts, said:

“Green Alliance’s report is a welcome contribution to the evolving debate on how we best apply the concept of natural capital for the benefit of people and planet. I hope the report will help politicians and senior business leaders understand that investing in our natural capital will lead not only to ecological returns, but measurable economic and social returns too.”

Caroline Drummond, CEO of LEAF (Linking Environment and Farming), said:

“This report provides a great start to the debate on how we truly value our natural environment and start delivering change.  Farmers, in particular, are contributing greatly to protecting and enhancing habitats for nature, but with greater incentives more could be done.  Let’s get the debate going!”


Will Self-Driving Cars Be Better for the Environment?



self-driving cars for green environment
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Zapp2Photo |

Technologists, engineers, lawmakers, and the general public have been excitedly debating about the merits of self-driving cars for the past several years, as companies like Waymo and Uber race to get the first fully autonomous vehicles on the market. Largely, the concerns have been about safety and ethics; is a self-driving car really capable of eliminating the human errors responsible for the majority of vehicular accidents? And if so, who’s responsible for programming life-or-death decisions, and who’s held liable in the event of an accident?

But while these questions continue being debated, protecting people on an individual level, it’s worth posing a different question: how will self-driving cars impact the environment?

The Big Picture

The Department of Energy attempted to answer this question in clear terms, using scientific research and existing data sets to project the short-term and long-term environmental impact that self-driving vehicles could have. Its findings? The emergence of self-driving vehicles could essentially go either way; it could reduce energy consumption in transportation by as much as 90 percent, or increase it by more than 200 percent.

That’s a margin of error so wide it might as well be a total guess, but there are too many unknown variables to form a solid conclusion. There are many ways autonomous vehicles could influence our energy consumption and environmental impact, and they could go well or poorly, depending on how they’re adopted.

Driver Reduction?

One of the big selling points of autonomous vehicles is their capacity to reduce the total number of vehicles—and human drivers—on the road. If you’re able to carpool to work in a self-driving vehicle, or rely on autonomous public transportation, you’ll spend far less time, money, and energy on your own car. The convenience and efficiency of autonomous vehicles would therefore reduce the total miles driven, and significantly reduce carbon emissions.

There’s a flip side to this argument, however. If autonomous vehicles are far more convenient and less expensive than previous means of travel, it could be an incentive for people to travel more frequently, or drive to more destinations they’d otherwise avoid. In this case, the total miles driven could actually increase with the rise of self-driving cars.

As an added consideration, the increase or decrease in drivers on the road could result in more or fewer vehicle collisions, respectively—especially in the early days of autonomous vehicle adoption, when so many human drivers are still on the road. Car accident injury cases, therefore, would become far more complicated, and the roads could be temporarily less safe.


Deadheading is a term used in trucking and ridesharing to refer to miles driven with an empty load. Assume for a moment that there’s a fleet of self-driving vehicles available to pick people up and carry them to their destinations. It’s a convenient service, but by necessity, these vehicles will spend at least some of their time driving without passengers, whether it’s spent waiting to pick someone up or en route to their location. The increase in miles from deadheading could nullify the potential benefits of people driving fewer total miles, or add to the damage done by their increased mileage.

Make and Model of Car

Much will also depend on the types of cars equipped to be self-driving. For example, Waymo recently launched a wave of self-driving hybrid minivans, capable of getting far better mileage than a gas-only vehicle. If the majority of self-driving cars are electric or hybrids, the environmental impact will be much lower than if they’re converted from existing vehicles. Good emissions ratings are also important here.

On the other hand, the increased demand for autonomous vehicles could put more pressure on factory production, and make older cars obsolete. In that case, the gas mileage savings could be counteracted by the increased environmental impact of factory production.

The Bottom Line

Right now, there are too many unanswered questions to make a confident determination whether self-driving vehicles will help or harm the environment. Will we start driving more, or less? How will they handle dead time? What kind of models are going to be on the road?

Engineers and the general public are in complete control of how this develops in the near future. Hopefully, we’ll be able to see all the safety benefits of having autonomous vehicles on the road, but without any of the extra environmental impact to deal with.

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New Zealand to Switch to Fully Renewable Energy by 2035



renewable energy policy
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Eviart /

New Zealand’s prime minister-elect Jacinda Ardern is already taking steps towards reducing the country’s carbon footprint. She signed a coalition deal with NZ First in October, aiming to generate 100% of the country’s energy from renewable sources by 2035.

New Zealand is already one of the greenest countries in the world, sourcing over 80% of its energy for its 4.7 million people from renewable resources like hydroelectric, geothermal and wind. The majority of its electricity comes from hydro-power, which generated 60% of the country’s energy in 2016. Last winter, renewable generation peaked at 93%.

Now, Ardern is taking on the challenge of eliminating New Zealand’s remaining use of fossil fuels. One of the biggest obstacles will be filling in the gap left by hydropower sources during dry conditions. When lake levels drop, the country relies on gas and coal to provide energy. Eliminating fossil fuels will require finding an alternative source to avoid spikes in energy costs during droughts.

Business NZ’s executive director John Carnegie told Bloomberg he believes Ardern needs to balance her goals with affordability, stating, “It’s completely appropriate to have a focus on reducing carbon emissions, but there needs to be an open and transparent public conversation about the policies and how they are delivered.”

The coalition deal outlined a few steps towards achieving this, including investing more in solar, which currently only provides 0.1% of the country’s energy. Ardern’s plans also include switching the electricity grid to renewable energy, investing more funds into rail transport, and switching all government vehicles to green fuel within a decade.

Zero net emissions by 2050

Beyond powering the country’s electricity grid with 100% green energy, Ardern also wants to reach zero net emissions by 2050. This ambitious goal is very much in line with her focus on climate change throughout the course of her campaign. Environmental issues were one of her top priorities from the start, which increased her appeal with young voters and helped her become one of the youngest world leaders at only 37.

Reaching zero net emissions would require overcoming challenging issues like eliminating fossil fuels in vehicles. Ardern hasn’t outlined a plan for reaching this goal, but has suggested creating an independent commission to aid in the transition to a lower carbon economy.

She also set a goal of doubling the number of trees the country plants per year to 100 million, a goal she says is “absolutely achievable” using land that is marginal for farming animals.

Greenpeace New Zealand climate and energy campaigner Amanda Larsson believes that phasing out fossil fuels should be a priority for the new prime minister. She says that in order to reach zero net emissions, Ardern “must prioritize closing down coal, putting a moratorium on new fossil fuel plants, building more wind infrastructure, and opening the playing field for household and community solar.”

A worldwide shift to renewable energy

Addressing climate change is becoming more of a priority around the world and many governments are assessing how they can reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and switch to environmentally-friendly energy sources. Sustainable energy is becoming an increasingly profitable industry, giving companies more of an incentive to invest.

Ardern isn’t alone in her climate concerns, as other prominent world leaders like Justin Trudeau and Emmanuel Macron have made renewable energy a focus of their campaigns. She isn’t the first to set ambitious goals, either. Sweden and Norway share New Zealand’s goal of net zero emissions by 2045 and 2030, respectively.

Scotland already sources more than half of its electricity from renewable sources and aims to fully transition by 2020, while France announced plans in September to stop fossil fuel production by 2040. This would make it the first country to do so, and the first to end the sale of gasoline and diesel vehicles.

Many parts of the world still rely heavily on coal, but if these countries are successful in phasing out fossil fuels and transitioning to renewable resources, it could serve as a turning point. As other world leaders see that switching to sustainable energy is possible – and profitable – it could be the start of a worldwide shift towards environmentally-friendly energy.


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