I spoke at a conference today on policy developments in biodiversity and species protection.  As we are in the middle of an election campaign, no one was able to offer a government perspective, but it was still useful to catch up with the latest thinking from others.  A long hand version of my mini contribution is shown below.


Amidst the white noise surrounding Brexit and the election we seem to have forgotten that we are about to come to the end of a decade: a decade when we promised to have halted the loss of biodiversity.

And, objectively we have failed to deliver that promise.  As this year’s state of nature report has shown, species populations are still declining in the UK and on our 14 overseas territories. 

So, as we embark on a new decade, something must change. 

And it needs to change fast: scientists say that there is only a dozen years for global warming to be kept to a maximum of 1.5 degree C and to prevent a million species from being at risk of extinction.  To avoid this catastrophe for people and wildlife, major transformation to the world’s economy needs to start now.

I welcome the intention of the current UK Government to establish a new package of laws and policies if/when Brexit happens.  Clearly we want to make them (and the whole new environmental legal and governance framework across the UK) as robust as possible, but we shall need to include a ratchet mechanism both in terms of ambition but also in terms of financial and policy interventions. 

As we are in a middle of an election campaign, my message to all politicians is to think about where we need to be at the end of next decade and work backwards from that.   If we are really addressing the climate and ecological emergency, what will we be saying and doing?

We have offered some clues in our own manifesto for nature.

Aerial view of Lookout Tower, RSPB Forsinard Flows Nature Reserve, Sutherland (rspb-images.com).  Forsinard is the RSPB's nature reserve and also our largest site: protecting and restoring 21,000 hectares of blanket bog 

It’s also worth remembering that this time next year, governments will, through the Convention on Biological Diversity, have established new ambition for 2030.  What will be these new commitments and what will they mean for domestic policy?

If we have our way (which we are planning through close collaboration and campaigning with our own international network BirdLife International, and also with other international NGOs such as WWF, Conservation International, and many others other NGOs around the world) we will have new targets which help keep common species common, recover species threatened with extinction and protect those services that nature gives us for free.  Specifically, we are calling for new targets to…

…effectively protect and conserve at least 30 percent of both land and sea by 2030 with a focus on key biodiversity areas and other critical sites for biodiversity

…help address the root causes of biodiversity loss including halting the conversion of natural habitats and significantly reducing the negative ecological footprint of our production and consumption

…redirect sufficient public and private financing towards the conservation and recovery of biodiversity and a withdrawal of funding for activities that negatively impact nature

This is big stuff. 

To illustrate how big a shift this is, first consider the protected area target.  Based on condition assessments of terrestrial protected in the UK, just 5% of the UK is well managed for nature.  So, if 30% by 2030 is what becomes new government ambition, we need a six-fold increase in protection and management of our land over the next decade. 

Second, think about our own ecological footprint.  From work we have done with WWF, UK consumption of just seven commodities (beef and leather, cocoa, palm oil, pulp and paper, rubber, soy, and timber) is putting at risk c6 million hectares of rainforest.  Reducing our ecological footprint must feature as part of our agenda for future UK trade policies and must require governments to work with business to reduce the impact of their supply chains.

This isn’t just about saving wildlife for its own sake.  We shall argue that nature-based solutions – such as restoring peatlands and tropical forests - can provide over 30 percent of the action needed by 2030 to avert dangerous climate change and that a healthy natural environment is also essential for providing food, water, health and livelihoods to people everywhere.  That’s why we are saying that we should allocate at least £42 billion of public expenditure next year (roughly 5% of government spending) to help address the climate and ecological emergency at home and abroad.

Securing the right ambition next year is vital.  But governments across the UK have a chance to be ahead of the game by putting these targets in law and securing adequate funding now. These are the issues where I hope and expect the next UK Government will invest its energy.