Published5th February 2021
Knowledge TypeTechnical paper
Organisation, National Infrastructure Commission
Natural Capital and Environmental Net Gain
A discussion paper examining how infrastructure development can contribute to protecting the country’s natural environment.
Society and the economy depend on natural capital assets and services – including the water we drink, the air we breathe and the food we eat – to function. But natural capital has declined in recent decades. Infrastructure both contributes to and is impacted by this decline but can also help reverse it.
Infrastructure developers should consider the impact of infrastructure development on natural capital assets and take the opportunities to contribute to the environment and biodiversity as part of development. Infrastructure projects should target environmental net gain, ensuring that infrastructure developers leave the environment in measurably better state than they found it.
Infrastructure and natural capital
There is a two-way relationship between infrastructure and natural capital:
- infrastructure can have both a positive and a negative impact on natural capital assets such as fresh water and clean air
- infrastructure can deliver benefits for natural capital, for example through the provision of protected natural habitats and connecting corridors for species along linear infrastructure, and sustainable drainage systems for mitigating flood risk
- changes in the environment can increase the costs of infrastructure, for example if roads and railways need to withstand higher temperatures
- natural capital approaches can reduce the demand for infrastructure, for example natural water catchment management for flood protection.
The National Infrastructure Commission recognises the importance of natural capital and is working on both addressing the impact of infrastructure on the environment and exploiting the opportunities to use infrastructure solutions to support and improve natural capital. One such approach is through ‘environmental net gain’, the concept of ensuring that developers leave the environment in a measurably better state compared to the pre-development baseline.