It seems like 2040 is the new 2020. 

With the majority of election manifestos now launched, there is a growing political consensus that we need a 25 year plan to recover nature in England.  That’s change within a generation.  The parties appear to have heeded the advice of the Natural Capital Committee (see here) and the civil society clamour for action to address the parlous State of Nature.  I am sure that Bob will be pleased.

Commitments made in manifestos (see below) provide a starting point for any future government agenda. I think we can be quietly confident that the next government will have the right rhetorical ambition for nature, will continue the path towards a low carbon economy and if you look closely there are some juicy specifics to applaud.

In the coming weeks, we need to make sure that any parties involved in coalition talks build on this important cross-party position by agreeing the strongest possible commitment to restore nature.

The next challenge, as ever, will be to ensure that the ambition is matched by a decent plan which is then implemented.  And, just as importantly we’ll need to ensure that any attempts to boost economic growth (through deregulation or poorly designed/located new infrastructure) do not run roughshod over environmental ambitions.  The first big test will be to defend the laws that protect our nature – the EU Nature Directives which are currently being reviewed (see here).

Of course, the RSPB will work with whoever is in power after 8 May.  We want and desperately need the government (whatever colour or combination of colours) to be successful in realising its ambitions for nature, at home and internationally.

Former Chief Scientist, Professor Sir John Beddington has highlighted the perfect storm that the planet faces: by 2030, global demand for energy and food expected is to grow by 50%  and water by 30%.  This could have severe consequences for our climate, the millions of species with which we share this planet, and for us.  Unless we manage to decouple rising demand for natural resources from environmental harm, then it will be inevitable that there will be greater loss of natural habitat which in turn will lead to species being committed to extinction.

To turn things around we need some serious change. Long-term ambition is the first ingredient - we need the next government to set out a clear goal for improving the state of nature, so that Whitehall, businesses, NGOs and individuals can all be sure of what needs to be achieved. That’s why we’ve been calling for a 25 year plan with targets for sites and species as part of the Act for Nature campaign for which we have joined forces with The Wildlife Trusts.  Then, we need to make sure that our need for nature is integrated in decision-making across the board, that threatened species are recovered and special sites are protected, and that everyone can enjoy a decent connection with nature. Again, there are encouraging signs here, with cross-party recognition of the need for nature in people’s lives.

Put this together and the UK can once again lead the world in environmental protection. We did it with the Climate Change Act which received cross-party support in 2008 - we can do it again through ambitious plans for improving the state of nature.

The global target to manage a sixth of land and a tenth of sea for nature by 2020 is right and we must focus on that in the short term.  But, EO Wilson has developed his ‘Half Earth’ hypothesis (see here): that, in the medium term, we should aspire for 50% of land and sea to be set aside for wildlife.  How that is broken down biogeographically will be a matter of debate, but it's a timely reminder that any 2040 plan for nature in England or our overseas territories needs to be ecologically coherent.

No small task, and it is one that demands real political leadership.

So finally, if you have not done so already, do read the political manifestos.  I’ve listed those that are currently published below and highlighted some of the pages where environmental commitments are made.

Happy reading!

Environmental sections from the election manifestos:

Conservatives: p54 and 56

Greens: p13, 19

Labour: p56 and 79

Lib Dems: p76, 88, 152

UKIP: p32, 46, 48

  • Martin - I would love to see your policy to "decouple rising demand for natural resources from environmental harm".

    The biggie is the unpalatable - Arab Spring was triggered by food price increases. Beddington's 'perfect storm' food riots are something that no country can afford to ignore in face of climate change etc. At the same time, we need to seriously conserve nature without impacting on affordable food prices. How we consume does need to change but how, with what crowd, or Bob for Nature, pleasing policy - I would love to hear!

    It's something I aim to explore at Hay Festival this year


    ps did this come through first time?

  • Blimey, that was a read and three quarters!  I'm disappointed - but not surprised - by the Conservatives, you'd think there was no wildlife crime here at all to read their manifesto.  Labour's manifesto reads a bit better but I am still very wary of their historic 'purse permanently open' attitude.  I thoroughly applaud the Greens' proposed ban on killing anything for sport but there will be a lot of people out there who will be very unhappy about this - and the majority of them will have committed no crime against wildlife.  I don't see anything on the Lib Dem's or UKIP's manifestos to make me smile - and UKIP seem to base so much of their plans on a basic mistrust of Europe and its policies.  I honestly think that the only one of these parties who will really take the environment seriously if elected would be the Greens - the other main parties clearly have bigger issues to think about.

    Where is Screaming Lord Sutch when you need him?