If there is a correlation between nature conservation impact and media profile/political speeches, this would be an excellent week. Of course, life is not that simple, but it would be wrong to simply dismiss the political interventions around the UN Biodiversity Summit or indeed the increased media attention that the nature crisis is getting. Raised profile raises the stakes and the public demand for action grows as a response. And, failure to deliver attracts greater political cost.
The two big moments of the week were the UK Prime Minister's new ambition for 30% of England to be protected for nature (we await similar statements from the devolved administrations) and the new Leaders' Pledge for Nature now supported by 75 other nations. This was then followed by a series of political speeches, including from Boris Johnson, at the Summit itself.
There was a lot of debate about whether words and pledges make a difference and indeed what action is needed to drive the transformation that nature needs. A few of us tried to explain what the 30% should mean (for example see my twitter threads here and here) and what needs to happen next. But I was very pleased that Channel 4 dedicated a quarter of its programme on Wednesday night to discussing the primary driver of biodiversity loss - agriculture. Feeding a growing global population while protecting and restoring nature remains one of the greatest challenges we face. So it was welcome to see this issue unpacked so effectively.
This is good news, as indeed was the profile given to the two RSPB stories of the week: our Bird Crime report and our challenge to end burning of vegetation on peatlands. There is a lot to do revive our world. And in an opinion piece published in the Daily Telegraph this week, our Chief Executive outlines what we think needs to happen next. I have posted Beccy's article below.
Have a read, let me know what you think and what we should do next.
What really needs to happen if we're going to meet the Prime Minister’s ambition for the environment?
By Beccy Speight, RSPB Chief Executive
This week, more than sixty leaders, including the Prime Minister, signed what was dubbed a Leaders’ Pledge for Nature, committing to a set of ten actions to protect and restore our natural world.
In what is a clear diplomatic success for the UK Government, our ministers have worked tirelessly to co-create a coalition of the willing involving nations as diverse as Canada, Costa Rica and the Czech Republic.
Coming a fortnight after the UN reported that the world had failed completely to halt the loss of nature over the past decade, it provides a vital platform to deliver binding global commitments to revive our world at two major UN summits on biodiversity and climate change taking place in 2021 – the latter which the UK is hosting here in Glasgow.
Central to the Pledge is the need to take action now as we recover from this awful pandemic and address the crisis facing nature and our climate. Scientists agree that the destruction of natural habitats and the trade in wild animals have increased the risk of disease outbreaks like Covid-19, and without action to protect and restore nature, we have no chance of controlling climate change or adapting to its impacts. In a separate announcement on Sunday night, the Prime Minister went even further by announcing support for a new target to secure 30% of UK land protected for nature by 2030. This is also good news: high ambition at home is vital on the diplomatic road to Glasgow next year.
However, while nearly 28% of UK land is currently classed by Government as “protected” (for example as a National Park), based on its own data just 5% is actually well managed for nature. This is one of the key reasons our wildlife – from hedgehogs to swifts – is in freefall. The sad truth is that areas set aside for wildlife have been found to be in a worst state inside our national parks than outside them.
For wildlife and the ecosystems we all depend on, such as clean air and water, to thrive again, we need so much more than lines around new areas on maps.
First, we must enshrine the 30% promise in law, alongside targets to restore populations of wild species. We can do this through the delayed Westminster Environment Bill before the end of this year, and then encourage equivalent action from the devolved administrations.
If this was properly backed by a reformed system of farm payments - redirecting existing farm subsidies to support those that protect and restore the farmed environment alongside food production - and new dedicated resources to restore destroyed habitats, it would allow places like our national parks to become the building blocks for nature’s recovery.
We estimate that an additional £615 million of capital funding each year to restore wild places to their former glory would not only help deliver the Prime Ministers ambitions, but also create 8,800 new jobs and level up the economy across the country through tourism.
This must be coupled with swift action to address scandals such as the continued burning of heather on our precious peat bogs, as Lord Goldsmith recently pledged would be included in the upcoming England Peat strategy.
We want and need the Prime Minister to be successful. Both for the wildlife here at home which is suffering such dreadful declines, and for global species that could be saved by UK diplomatic efforts. We’ve already seen that action is possible with the proposals earlier this year to establish world-leading legislation requiring a common, minimum standard of compliance for products that threaten forests around the world.
Sir David Attenborough has challenged our generation to step up. This week was a strong statement of intent. We now need urgent domestic action to back up the Prime Minister’s fine words and begin the difficult task of reviving our world.
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