2020 has, as expected, started with a bang with a raft of new announcements and bills.  Given the result of the General Election, it was inevitable that things would start moving and that has clearly happened in Northern Ireland with the Stormont Deal (which will be the subject of a future blog), at Westminster, but in this so-called Super Year, things are also moving globally. 

Below, I highlight three things that have emerged this week: the UN’s draft plan to tackle the extinction crisis, new proposals for seabird conservation and the new agriculture bill (for England).  Each will be crucial to the UK Government realising its obligations to restore nature.  We shall take time to scrutinise the proposals and work hard to ensure that that governments set the right ambition, establish the right governance (for monitoring, reporting and scrutiny), shift money away from activities that damage the environment towards those activities that protect and improve the environment, while ultimately ensuring that they will make a difference for nature on land and at sea.

On Monday, the United Nations’ published its draft ten-year plan (2020-2030) to tackle the global ecological crisis.  This draft is the foundation of an agreement, A New Deal for Nature and People, that countries will finalise in October this year at a summit in Kunming, China.  It sets ambitious targets to protect almost a third of the worlds land and oceans, and proposes high-level goals on preventing the destruction ecosystems, reducing the number of species threatened with extinction and recovering the abundance of nature all be achieved by 2030.

Unlike the previous plan and targets (which had been agreed in Japan in 2010), the framework also underlines the importance of investing in nature to meeting our climate change commitments. The UK Government, as the host of the UN climate negotiations in November 2020, has a key role to play in promoting the case to invest in nature to tackle the climate crisis and strengthening the connections between the two UN Conventions/Agreements. 

We shall pay particular attention to commitments made to financing delivery of the ambition of the global plan for nature and will look to strengthen the way countries present their plans for implementation and report against their progress.  For a UK audience, we need to ensure the targets agreed as a result of any new domestic legislation (as is proposed in the Environment Bill for England) reflect global ambition (such as the 30% by 2030 protected area target), that public spending for nature reflects that ambition (which it clearly doesn’t at the moment) and that there is a clear strategy for translating national ambition into local action (which needs to learn the lessons from what has worked in previous strategies).

On the latter, it was very pleasing to hear Environment Minister, Rebecca Pow, commit to producing a Seabird Conservation Strategy, which will be published in December 2020.  This will assess the vulnerability of each species in light of the pressures they are facing and will propose actions to address them.  Identifying and then working through remedies to address seabird declines is a very rational way to deal with the challenges but this will require collaboration across government departments especially to reconcile the conflict between seabird and offshore windfarms.  The seabird strategy was accompanied by welcome announcements of new and extended special protection areas, designated to protect seabirds, in the Solent and near Middlesbrough.  You can read more about the announcement here.


The draft UN global plan also includes some promising text on tackling the drivers of biodiversity loss including a suggested target to reduce harmful pesticide and pollution rates by at least half, deliver sustainable forestry and fisheries, and more sustainable supply chains, but these actions are currently not at the forefront of the draft framework. Global reports released in 2019 starkly showed that the biggest driver of biodiversity loss continues to be land and sea use change. If this framework is to be impactful and truly transformational over the next decade, we cannot afford to hide or water down the importance or ambition of these actions.

The good news is that transformation of one of the major drivers is on the cards for England at least with the Agriculture Bill being introduced to Westminster Parliament earlier this week.  As agriculture is the most important driver of wildlife declines in the UK and is a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions from land use, it is right that the Bill seeks major reform.  We think that the new proposals will enable farmers and land managers in England to lead the way in tackling the climate and ecological emergency.  In particular, it’s right to put a focus on public money for public goods as that is what is needed to drive the restoration of nature across our countryside, and a shift toward more sustainable food production.  It is crucial that the Government retains this focus, and that they fund the bill properly, now and for the long-term.  It’s not much good if the Bill says all the right things only for the money to be redirected elsewhere.  We need to keep the money in the countryside and use it to drive the transformation in the way that we produce food and manage our land.  If you would like to see more detailed comment, my colleague Tom Lancaster has written this excellent blog here.

I wrote at the beginning of the year that 2020 is set to be one of renewal and there are promising signs this week that action will match the rhetoric.  It’s just a start but it is a good start.  Our job is to scrutinise each of the proposals and work hard to ensure they drive practical action for nature on land and at sea. 

Images courtesy of Caroline Thomas (Gola rainforest) and Chris Gomersall (fishing boat) from rspb-images.com