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UK moves closer to establishing high-integrity natural capital markets with publication of joint roadmap from cross-UK coalition


The UK has moved closer to establishing high-integrity marine natural capital markets to significantly boost the protection and restoration of marine and coastal ecosystems. This follows the launch of a new roadmap setting out key recommendations and actions for implementation through to 2030. The roadmap, a partnership between The Crown Estate, Blue Marine Foundation, Crown Estate Scotland, EsméeFairbairn Foundation, Finance Earth and Pollination, was launched in the House of Commons yesterday.

A first-of-its-kind for the UK, ‘High-Integrity Marine Natural Capital Markets in the UK – A Roadmap for Action’ has been co-designed through a year-long process involving over 200 UK and international experts across academia, industry, finance, government and not-for-profits. It presents a pathway to delivering high-integrity marine natural capital markets which can provide much needed new sources of finance to protect, restore and sustainably manage marine and coastal ecosystems.

The seven recommendations, which are not set out in any order of priority, call on a wide cross-section of stakeholders to address barriers in areas such as funding, target sites for restoration, long-term monitoring, data and evidence, and skills and knowledge to deliver marine natural capital projects at scale. They are:

  1. Identify priority opportunities and approved methods for marine and coastal conservation and restoration.

  2. Deliver seascape-scale natural capital projects through combined public and private funding.

  3. Implement policy and regulatory requirements to drive demand for marine natural capital.

  4. Accelerate the development of UK-wide codes for marine and coastal ecosystem services.

  5. Address critical evidence gaps for the development of marine natural capital markets.

  6. Develop publicly accessible and standardised approaches to data collection, hosting and monitoring.

  7. Build the necessary skills and capacity to harness marine natural capital opportunities.

The UK’s diverse marine and coastal ecosystems play a critical role in underpinning our economy, health and wellbeing, but they are increasingly threatened by growing pressures including rising temperatures, development, certain fishing and aquaculture practices, water pollution and other anthropogenic impacts. To safeguard and restore our vital marine and coastal environments, natural capital markets provide a route to leverage payments for ecosystem services and unlock much-needed private finance where public and philanthropic funding is often stretched.

However, if poorly designed, these markets also hold potential risks, such as danger of greenwashing, lack of community involvement and benefit, and short-lived or failed projects to protect and restore marine and coastal ecosystems, reducing investor confidence and deterring investment. The roadmap sets out steps for developing high-integrity marine natural capital markets which can protect against these risks and deliver real, measurable value for people and nature.

With its seven recommendations and accompanying actions through to 2030, today’s roadmap builds on an initial synthesis report published last year. Finance Earth and Pollination held an online consultation on the initial report and partnered with the Seascape Restoration Research Network, led by the University of Portsmouth, to hold a series of workshops in each of the four nations of the UK. Through the workshops, stakeholders helped to refine an initial long list of recommendations and actions and identify the key stakeholders to lead their delivery.

In order to translate the roadmap into real impact, a steering group has been established to oversee key actions.

Caroline Price, Head of Nature and Environment, The Crown Estate, said: “The UK’s marine natural and coastal ecosystems play a critical role in underpinning our economy, health and wellbeing. Our coasts, estuaries and offshore waters contribute an estimated £47bn to the economy and support over 500,000 jobs. As appreciation of the services and benefits we draw from marine and coastal ecosystems has grown, so too has the opportunity to recognise this value through market mechanisms that can bring in finance to deliver protection and restoration of our vital marine and coastal environments.

“At The Crown Estate, we’re so pleased to be launching this roadmap that will bring us one step closer to establishing high-integrity marine natural capital markets in the UK. While work is already underway to advance these markets across the four nations, today’s roadmap pulls these different strands together to present a coherent pathway to be used by government, private sector, financial institutions, academia, NGOs, and wider civil society alike, to drive this development forward and unlock investment in marine nature recovery at scale.”

Dan Crockett, Ocean and Climate Director, Blue Marine Foundation, said: “Despite increasing recognition that the ocean is vital in our fight against climate change, we are yet to see ambitious financial investment from the private sector in protecting it. Today's launch highlights the opportunity of a high-integrity marine natural capital market that delivers positive outcomes for the planet and people. Meaningful collaboration is vital to achieving nature recovery at the scale that is required; Blue Marine is proud to have worked with our partners and many other stakeholders over the past year to draw together this roadmap. We hope by demonstrating a clear avenue for high-integrity marine natural capital markets in the UK we can inform market development in coastal communities around the world, to turn the tide and increase momentum for marine restoration and conservation.”

Annie Breaden, Head of Policy, Crown Estate Scotland,said: “Crown Estate Scotland is delighted to have supported the preparation of the roadmap. We see it as a really positive step forward, providing valuable direction on how to enable innovative approaches to financing the restoration and enhancement of the UK’s rich and diverse marine and coastal environment. The roadmap provides a clear set of recommendations, and we look forward to working collaboratively with partner organisations and stakeholders on its delivery.”

Liam McAleese, Director of Our Natural World, Esmée,said:We urgently need new sources of financing nature recovery at sea, working with and supporting coastal communities. The publication of a road map for high-integrity marine natural capital markets in the UK is an important step forward and must ensure that markets are well regulated and designed around improving outcomes for nature and people.”

Elizabeth Beall, Managing Director, Finance Earth, said: “The launch of this roadmap is a critical moment for establishing high-integrity marine natural capital markets in the UK that deliver for people and planet. There are a range of actions needed – and many already underway – from the development of new marine focused codes to provide rigour and ensure high integrity impact is delivered, to piloting seascape approaches to restore and protect our vital marine and coastal ecosystems. The Roadmap brings all of the required actions together to outline a cohesive plan to ensure we are all rowing together in the same direction, which is the only way we will meet our 2030 targets.

“Co-designed with over 200 stakeholders, this roadmap represents a consensus view of what is required to mobilise the capital needed and ensure that integrity is at the core of these emerging markets. It has been a privilege to work with this coalition to bring together and launch the roadmap, and we look forward to supporting its implementation in the coming years.”

Annick Paradis, Executive Director, Pollination,said: "This roadmap responds to the importance and urgency of developing high-integrity marine natural capital markets in the UK and globally, and presents a pathway with actions for implementation to 2030. As only 1% of global climate finance is spent on the ocean, robust markets are needed to increase capital flow to support global climate and nature goals.

“Across the UK, those markets can build more resilient supply chains, bolster food security and create jobs in the UK’s coastal communities. To realise this vision, diverse stakeholders will need to collaborate to boost investor confidence by demonstrating projects on the ground work in practice. This will require a sustained effort, but done right, will help to deliver scale for marine natural capital markets in the UK and abroad.

“Pollination is delighted to work with a fantastic set of partners in supporting this endeavour."

Professor Joanne Preston, University of Portsmouth, said: "In the UK we have world-class expertise in assessing and monitoring our marine and coastal ecosystems (natural capital assets), yet confidence limiting knowledge gaps still remain about habitat extent and quality, the quantification of the ecosystem services they provide, and how anthropogenic impacts affect the delivery of these benefits. we need a focused research agenda that addresses these gaps and builds our evidence base using consensus and market relevant approaches."

In connection with today’s launch, and in connection with the recommendations in the Roadmap, The Crown Estate is also releasing a report outlining the learnings from the roll-out of the UK’s first Blue Carbon Accelerator Programme.

Run by Bright Tide, a leading sustainability company, and supported by The Crown Estate, Hogan Lovells and EY, the Accelerator Programme helped to address the skills gap highlighted in the Natural Capital Markets Roadmap by supporting the maturation of entrepreneurs looking to lead natural capital projects across the UK. The programme offered financial, legal and technical support for new ventures, helping to equip entrepreneurs with the skills needed to grow new innovative projects and address the knowledge gaps that can often become a barrier to harnessing marine natural capital opportunities.

More details on the Accelerator Programme, plus the full findings, are available here.