It has been quite a week - starting with four million people (young and old) taking to the streets as part of the Global Climate Strike last Friday and followed up with a week of campaigning action. 

As the youth strike for climate continues today, politicians at Westminster are stuck in the increasingly toxic Brexit vortex and global leaders fail to come up with a convincing response to the brilliant and passionate appeal for action from Greta Thunberg to the UN General Assembly in New York (*see footnote below).

The backdrop to all these events is, of course, mounting evidence (exemplified by recent IPCC and IPBES reports) that the scale and urgency of the planetary crisis is intensifying.  It has been sobering this week to be hosting our colleague Lyndon John who lives and works for the RSPBin the Caribbean UK Overseas Territories – a region which is now regularly hit by increasingly intensive hurricanes such as Irma and Dorian causing devastation to islands like the Turks and Caicos, British Virgin Islands (both in 2017) and the Bahamas (2019).

The obligation on all of us - individuals, communities, organisations and especially decision-makers – is to step up to the challenge of tackling the ecological and climate emergency.

Today, I thought I would provide an update on what the RSPB is doing.

We know that without urgent action to tackle climate change, millions of species will be at risk of extinction, but it is also worth noting two conclusions from the 2018 IPCC report

…the risks of climate-induced impacts on biodiversity and ecosystems are substantially less at 1.5°C global warming than at 2°C.

…ocean ecosystems are now experiencing big climate-induced changes for example, already depleted coral reefs will lose a further 70-90% of cover even at 1.5°C.   

That’s why as the science about climate change evolves, so must our response. 

The RSPB has long taken a leadership role in acting on climate change. We were founder members of The Climate Coalition and Stop Climate Chaos Scotland, and have successfully contributed to large climate change mobilisations such as the recent Time is Now lobby and previous Climate Change rallies (such as the Wave in 2009).   

But we are determined to do more as part of civil society which is why we showed empathy and solidarity with the UK Student Climate Change Network by participating in the Climate Strike last Friday.  I joined the one in Cambridge (see image below) and it was brilliant to be in the company of such committed and passionate people while also seeing the Strike unfold across the UK and the world.  I believe that this show of public anger, fear and determination will (eventually) trigger a response commensurate to the scale of the crisis.

Through our recently refreshed climate change strategy, the RSPB will…

…play our part in the global civil society campaign to secure a zero carbon economy and support calls for a UK target of net zero by 2045 enshrined in law and a 2030 80% emissions reduction target in Scotland.  

…practice what we preach by matching the RSPB’s internal carbon footprint reduction targets to what we advocate externally.  We are delighted that we have managed to meet our target (two years ahead of schedule) of reducing the RSPB's greenhouse gas emissions by 30% per capita compared with 2010/11 levels.  A more aggressive target will require even more action but I shall return to this in a future blog.

…advocate the much-needed energy revolution to take place in harmony with nature for example by ensuring that the role out of offshore wind farms does not cause needless conflict with marine wildlife

…promote natural climate solutions which help protect areas which are rich in nature and high in carbon (as we illustrated through our mapping of high nature/carbon areas in the UK) while advocating the end of the most egregious land management practices such as burning peatlands in our uplands (as shown in the image above my Andy Hay rspb-images.com)

…understand the impact of climate change on wildlife and adapt our practical conservation work accordingly (especially on our nature reserves)

…encourage our members to change their own behaviour to reduce their own environmental footprint for example by engaging in some tough conversations about consumption and travel

support our partners (often BirdLife International) who are working for people and nature in the most vulnerable parts of the world especially in the UKOTs of the Caribbean

The clock is ticking and the time is now to tackle the climate and ecological emergency.

What do you think should be the RSPB’s priorities in responding to the crisis?

It would be great to hear your views.

* There was one significant announcement from Prime Minister Johnson in New York this week: £220m new funding will be dedicated to international biodiversity, with a significant scale-up in funding for the Darwin Initiative.  See https://www.gov.uk/government/news/pm-launches-new-action-plan-to-save-the-natural-world.

While we have yet to see an equivalent uplift in domestic biodiversity funding to offset a decade of decline in government investment in U.K. conservation, this boost for international conservation is good news. The RSPB (and international biodiversity) has benefited from Darwin funding and my colleague Dr Juliet Vickery is a member of the Darwin Expert Committee. This was her reaction...

“As a member of the Darwin Expert Committee I am always impressed by the quantity and quality of applications the Darwin Initiative receives each year and often frustrated that we can’t award more. This news of a significant scale-up in funding is hugely welcome because these locally based projects really can, and do, make a difference for biodiversity and people worldwide”.

As ever though, not everything is rosy, as it was disappointing that no further funding was announced for the Darwin Plus fund, which supports vital projects to save the highly threatened wildlife of the UK’s Overseas Territories. This was despite a major consultation earlier in the summer on Overseas Territory environmental funding. The Prime Minister’s environment speech in New York noted our role as the world’s most important penguin nation, so we will be maintaining our efforts to make sure these frequently overlooked biodiversity hotspots also receive the wider funding they need.

Anonymous
  • To 'encourage our members to change their own behaviour', including 'travel' is to stop encouraging air travel, in particular, by advertising flying holidays in Nature's Home magazine: I counted nearly thirteen pages of flying holiday adverts in the Autumn 2019 issue. I would maintain that eco-tourism, as you may put it, can never include air travel; any short-term benefit to wildlife or local economy is far outweighed by the incidental hugely increased greenhouse gas emissions of fuel burning in airliners.

  • Thanks! Sue: our most recent campaign targeting politicians was the Time is Now lobby when we encouraged our members (with other organisations) to lobby politicians about both nature and climate targets.  We are planning more campaigning actions very soon so watch this space.  Macaris: my own view is that we need mass public mobilisation alongside targeting political campaigning and demonstration of what can be achieved to inspire hope that it is possible to improve the natural world.  We feel we have a part to play in all three areas. StackyardGreen: yep - I agree and know only too well of the consequences of poorly designed renewable schemes.  The current conflict is in the marine environment where the ambition for increase in energy generation from the marine environment (75GW) could, unless there is a serious investment in floating wind turbines, cause devastating consequences for marine wildlife.  We have to find a way through this genuinely wicked problem.

  • A lot of good stuff, Martin, but please keep in mind the law of unintended consequences and that a lot of what actually happens will be determined by money. That is why we have the biofuels disaster, wind turbines on deep peat and are burning whole trees from North America in Drax power station - all in the name of being green and all subsidised by you and me.

  • Individual, or organisational, change is necessary but not sufficient.  We need system-wide change and only governments can ensure this through policy, monitoring and enforcement.  Incremental change will not meet the scale of the challenge.  Sadly, most governments are nowhere near meeting their obligations under the 2015 Paris agreement, and are certainly not responding adequately to the 2018 IPCC report and more recent scientific findings.  It follows that the only hope is in mass protest movements.  Please encourage your members, strongly and regularly, to support the youth climate strikes and Extinction Rebellion.  It would be wonderful to see RSPB banners on the streets in London from October 7th until we win!

  • Encourage members to express their support for our position. Include a postcard in the next mailing setting out the key points, which members can add to and sign and send to their decision makers of choice - MP, MSP, Councillors, etc. Have a webpage with links to their parliamentary/ council addresses to help take up.