Today sees the release of the largest and most comprehensive attempt to assess the state of our living planet and humanity’s place in it. At its launch in France, governments and scientists have come together to agree that we are exploiting nature faster than it can renew itself. By its very nature it is a detailed and complex document, but at its heart the message is simple.
We are changing our planet beyond recognition. Seventy-five per cent of all land and almost half of all marine and water ecosystems have now been seriously altered by humans. The populations of many species are in freefall because of these impacts; and more are threatened with extinction now than at any other time in human history.
Unless we change our ways, not only do we threaten the future of the million of species with which we share this planet, we put our own species at risk.
This assessment from the Intergovernmental Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) is the first global assessment of the state of the world’s nature for nearly fifteen years, and yet another study to highlight the environmental disaster that surrounds us.
The scale of the report is massive. Over 150 experts from across 50 countries have bought together tens of thousands of sources of information. Much of what is said will be familiar - but that does not diminish the importance let alone the urgency. We can no longer turn a blind eye to the crisis facing nature both at home and across the globe.
Indeed, the recent school climate strikes and the actions of Extinction Rebellion show our political leaders that there is a very real public desire for action.
So, what are the causes for the ensuing calamity that we find ourselves in?
As with the UK’s own State of Nature report, this new study shows that it’s the way in which we use our land and manage our oceans that are a primary cause of this collapse, closely followed by the devastating impacts of climate change, over-exploitation of species, pollution and the introduction of non-native species.
There is no single solution to this crisis – but there is hope provided we pick up the gauntlet and deliver the transformative change that the IPBES report advocates.
Transformative change may take time because we need to find radically different ways to decouple growing prosperity from ecological harm. But we must start now. In the next two years we have an opportunity to change things, to make the collective choices about how we feed ourselves, protect nature, and avoid climate chaos. Nature-based solutions can and need to be at the centre of that response - protecting and restoring those existing habitats which store or sequester carbon like peatlands and forests.
This is a global challenge which requires both international and national responses.
As I type, the UK Government will be attending an environment summit with other representatives from G7 countries. The UK Government has pledged a “world-leading law for a greener future” through the publication of an Environment Bill. We need to be seen to be setting the bar high and making sure that others follow. That is what was promised. We demand no less. So if we need to increase the scale and extent of land and sea that needs to be protected and restored - say 30% by 2030, then let's plan as if we mean to meet that target. And that starts with transforming finance: replacing the £428m annual environment funding that will be lost when we leave the EU; making the existing £3.1bn of agriculture subsidy work much harder for nature; introducing new taxes that not only penalise environmentally damaging activities such as peat extraction but also recycle that revenue to drive environmental improvements; and find innovative ways to access private sector finance to invest in restoring the services that nature provides humans.
2020 will be an important year for nature – global leaders will come together in Beijing, China to sign a new agreement under the UN’s nature treaty, we want to see ambitious commitments to tackle climate change that put nature at the heart, and it will be the first major “test” of the sustainable development goals. The time for transformative change is now.
We have no other choice.
*Image shows early morning mists rise over the Harapan Rainforest, Sumatra, Indonesia. The RSPB is working with our BirdLife partner to protect one of the last remaining pieces of Indonesian rainforest which is home to many thousands of bird and animal species. Photo by Clare Kendall (rspb-images.com)
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