It seems that David Attenborough’s programme Extinction: the facts moved many people to tears. To me, that is an entirely rational response to the ongoing destruction to the natural world. This relentless loss of the beauty and wonder of our planet not only corrodes the soul, it compromises our own species’ prosperity.
But, as I wrote on Friday, grief needs to be matched with a determination to change, bolstered by the belief that we know what it takes to make things better.
Today must be the moment that we choose a different path and take steps to revive our world.
The Global Biodiversity Outlook 5 (GBO5) was published today and revealed that the world has largely failed in its collective efforts to save nature over the last decade, and none of the targets (set under the UN's Convention on Biological Diversity - the CBD) have been fully met.
To pre-empt this, we launched A Lost Decade for Nature, which shines a light on the UK’s limited contribution towards these global biodiversity targets. According to the UK Government’s own assessment of performance, we will miss over two thirds of our commitments for nature made in 2010 (14 out of 20). We have compared this assessment against our own analysis and find even this is a rose-tinted picture. For example, it is ludicrous that the UK Government reports that we are “meeting or exceeding” the target for protected areas given that only 5% (at best) of UK land is in a protected area in good condition.
We conclude that governments across the UK fall particularly short in those targets which actually make a difference for species or habitats. There is neglect of basic monitoring and compliance, a failure to mainstream nature into other areas of public policy, and dwindling public resources for action.
The obvious conclusion we make is that our current approach is woefully inadequate.
But the wrong response to the findings of the GBO5 and our Lost Decade report would be despair - this is is not a motivating emotion. We have to believe that it’s not too late. GBO5 showed that some progress has been made and it will highlight many solutions and success stories across the world, that if scaled up and implemented over the next decade could indeed halt the loss of biodiversity and put nature on a path to recovery by 2030. This adds fuel to the conditional optimism argument – that through our own practical experience we we know how to improve the natural environment provided that the right conditions are in place.
And this needs to the be the message that we send to world leaders who are are due to gather in 2021 to agree a new set of 10-year global targets for nature. This is a chance to do things very differently so we need our leaders to commit to act for nature.
The UK, with its presidency of COP 26 and the G7, is well placed to lead this global charge and it has expressed its ambition to be a global leader in the fight to save nature, and to implement nature-based solutions to climate change. The Prime Minister is expected to repeat these promises at a forthcoming UN summit on biodiversity on 30th September.
But if these claims of leadership are to be credible, the UK will need to show precisely how it plans to fill the gap between rhetoric and reality in its own backyard. It will need to demonstrate how signing up to a new set of global targets will make a difference this time, how governments will take the urgent action needed to change the fortunes of wildlife on the ground.
By putting our commitment to reviving nature into law (through establishing legally binding targets as is currently being proposed at Westminster), and backing this up with finance and the right policies which end environmentally damaging things such as vegetation burning on peatlands while incentivising good things like nature-friendly farming, we will unleash the energy of the whole of society – of rewilders, farmers, business and community leaders, gardeners, and school children – all of whom have their part to play in making a more nature-rich world.
Whilst the Lost Decade report focuses on progress at a UK level, it is vital that actions to improve into the next decade come from the governments of the UK’s four countries, given that most policy relating to nature outside of England is devolved to governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
We have abundant evidence that by making the four countries of the UK wilder, healthier, places to live, we will boost out economy, improve our shared well-being, tackle climate change and make our buildings, infrastructure, farming and fishing industries more resilient for the future. This is a vision that inspires millions of people, and which polling shows is hugely popular across generational and political divides.
So it is time to act.
The response to a “lost decade” of inaction cannot be more of the same. We need our leaders, the Prime Minister and the First Ministers, to act as if we are in a climate and ecological emergency committing to drive change from the top and making it central to the political ambition of all governments.
The RSPB intends to play its part to the full.
We will continue to campaign with BirdLife International for an ambitious global deal for nature.
We will continue to advocate legally binding targets to drive nature’s recovery at home alongside radical reform of land management.
We will continue to do practical conservation to demonstrate that it is possible to restore threatened species and habitats at scale.
And we will continue to argue that for us to live in harmony with nature we need nothing short of a transformation of our economy.
Today, we launch our new campaign: Revive Our World. It is designed to help our 1.2 million members and the wider public to speak up for nature in its moment of need. Collectively, we will put pressure on governments across the UK to bring in the right legislation and investment to turn things round.
To sign up to the campaign and demand targets to revive our world, go to www.rspb.org.uk/ReviveOurWorld.
We can all be part of the solution and we can Revive Our World by 2030.
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The RSPB is a member of BirdLife International. Find out more about the partnership
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