Amidst the turmoil of 2020, you may have missed the publication of a paper prepared by all the world’s leading conservation organisations (including BirdLife International) that called for a new Global Goal for Nature.  Designed to influence the global biodiversity talks due to culminate in a UN summit in Kunming in China in May 2021, it urges governments to commit - in parallel to the UN Climate Convention's “net zero” goal – to taking action now to halt nature loss and ensure that the world is nature-positive by the end of this decade.

Nature positive means that by 2030 we have more nature than we do now, through improvements in the health, abundance, diversity and resilience of species, populations and ecosystems.  It’s what WWF have also termed bending the curve and it also chimes with the UN’s Decade on Ecosystem Restoration which officially starts on 5 June this year. 

The intent is laudable and, of course, supported by the RSPB.  Yet, it will take a monumental effort not just to secure the right deal in China but to follow this up with the political effort required to drive action.  To help us we many more voices for the planet.

And this is our 2021 challenge.

We need nothing less than the transformation of the world’s economies, energy and food systems.  This transformation needs to start now so that by 2050, nature will recover so that thriving ecosystems and nature-based solutions support future generations, the diversity of life and are playing a critical role in halting runaway climate change. 

Not only do we need to match the political, technological and campaigning effort being invested in tackling climate change, but we also need to ensure that the twin challenges are being dealt with in an integrated way.  It’s why we were critical of the recent decision over the Hornsea wind farm, it’s why we continue to oppose EDF’s proposal for Sizewell C next to RSPB Minsmere and why we continue to make the case – for example through our Energy Vision report - for decarbonisation of our energy supplies to take place in harmony with nature.

We want more politicians to share this challenge – not just because we believe it is a moral imperative to protect and restore the millions of other species with which we share this planet but also because our own species depends on a healthy natural environment.

The Covid-19 pandemic is the latest symptom of the human cost of failing to address respect nature. As the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services’ report from late last year stated, the same human activities driving biodiversity loss and climate change are also making pandemics more frequent, more costly and more deadly.  Pandemic risk is raised through land-use change, through expansion and intensification of agriculture, and through unsustainable trade, production and consumption which all disrupt nature and increase contact between wildlife, livestock, pathogens and people. 

Yet, as with climate change, the cost of failing to act is much greater than the cost of preventing future pandemics: IPBES estimates that action to prevent further environmental change and therefore reduce pandemic risk would be 100 times less than the current economic cost of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Given the urgency of the health and economic crisis presented by the pandemic, it is right that all effort is currently invested in keeping people safe and rolling out a vaccination programme.  Yet, we shall also need political effort to be invested in working out how to prevent future pandemics.  A proxy indicator for this will be the political effort invested in securing and then implementing a global deal for nature.  It's core to the Leaders' Pledge for Nature to which more than 80 nations - including the UK - have now signed.

In the UK, this needs to happen in parallel with replacing and bolstering the environmental protections that were previously provided by our membership of the European Union.  Through Greener UK, we have provided an initial analysis of the environmental implications of the new UK-EU trade deal and later this week I shall provide an assessment of how well the four UK countries have met our own tests for how Brexit affects our environmental ambitions.  This will highlight the huge work that we still need to do to prevent any governance gaps, to raise environmental standards and to ensure that international commitments are matched with the right ambition and resources at home.

The stakes for getting this right are rising each year.  So, in 2021 as well as campaigning for change the RSPB will once again roll up its sleeves and continue to take practical action to restore nature on land and sea at home, through the UK Overseas Territories and globally while working with BirdLife International. 

Together, we will continue to revive our world.

*Ben Andrew's image of a kittiwake - a species that is not only struggling because of food supplies being affected by climate change but also due to impacts of offshore wind farms (rspb-images.com)

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