The scale of the climate and ecological crisis requires action from all: from businesses, civil society and, of course governments at all levels

Last month, the Edinburgh Declaration was published by the Scottish Government and partners to emphasise the role and responsibility of sub-national authorities in contributing to the post 2020 agenda for biodiversity to be established in Kunming, China (Covid permitting) next year.

Remember, in the UK, although the UK Government ratified the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, most policy relating to nature outside of England is devolved to governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.  As such, most of the land and sea area that is legally protected for nature in the UK is within the jurisdiction of the devolved governments, rather than the UK national government.  And it goes without saying that the wild species and habitats found in the devolved countries, within and beyond those special protected sites, are treasures of international renown – just think seabirds, blanket bog etc etc.  It’s why we have strong RSPB teams in all parts of the UK.

It’s also why we put a spotlight on the collective performance of the UK administrations in our Lost Decade report published last week.  We need everyone to up their game.

This pattern of ‘sub-national authorities’, rather than national governments, holding many of the keys to protecting and enhancing nature is not restricted to the UK, but is common throughout the world.  High proportions of the world’s protected areas are managed and overseen by sub-nationals of various sorts, such as local authorities, mayoral jurisdictions and regional authorities.

As governments across the world continue to negotiate (through the UN’s Convention on Biological Diversity) a new set of international global targets for nature to be met by 2030, the successful delivery of these targets depends on the strength of the relationships between partners at the local, subnational, national and global level.

That’s why the Scottish Government and partners including the Welsh Government produced the ‘Edinburgh Declaration’.  It is a statement of intent seeking agreement between subnational, regional and local governments across the world to assume responsibility for the nature on which we all depend.  It calls on the UN Convention on Biological Diversity to elevate ambition in order to halt biodiversity loss, and it urges that greater prominence be given to the role subnational authorities play in delivering on the new global targets set to be agreed next year.

The RSPB has a view about what a successful deal would look like and, in our Lost Decade report, we outlined what action is needed across the UK.  

This is why the Scottish and Welsh Governments' work on this shared text is welcome.  It calls for collective commitment to raise ambition for nature’s recovery; frames the global pandemic as a reminder of nature’s central importance to human wellbeing; recognises our collective failure to halt biodiversity loss, and the urgent need for transformative action across land and sea to do so; and it recognises the role that charities like the RSPB and other non-government organisations will play in making the changes needed.  Most importantly, it acknowledges the impacts that our policies and actions at all levels have on the natural world.  

Clearly, statements of intent are useful contributions but must lead to action.  We cannot afford another decade of fine words and good intentions.  As we highlighted in our Lost Decade report we need urgent action at scale backed up by the right resources, starting now.  Subnational authorities can be critical agents of change, and through the RSPB’s Revive Our World campaign we intend to challenge governments at all levels to rise to the challenge.  Nature knows no boundaries or political nuance.  For us, biogeography trumps geopolitics.  That’s why we need cooperation and collective action from all.