Although many of us are still processing the outcomes from COP26 we must start to look ahead to another COP, COP15 of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, which will take place next May in Kunming, China, and will set a new global framework for tackling the nature crisis.

The Scottish Government has already been working hard to set the stage for an ambitious new nature agreement, leading to the creation in 2020 of the Edinburgh Declaration, which calls for bold action for nature at COP15 and to which around 200 government, cities and local authorities have signed up.

Scotland has the potential to lead the way not only on ambition, but also on delivering nature protection and restoration. To do this the focus must be on delivering transformative action at home. Scotland, a country world-famous for its wildlife and landscapes was recently found to be one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world. Whilst much of this loss of nature is historical, we are still losing nature now: since 1970 half of our species have declined, with 1 in 9 at risk of national extinction.

Photo credit: Louise Greenhorn

During COP26 the Scottish Government made a number of positive commitments on nature, including to protect and expand Scotland’s rainforest, to transform the Nature Restoration Fund and to deliver a National Test Programme to deliver nature and climate friendly farming. These are welcome steps in the right direction. However, to change the fate of nature, a huge uplift in investment is required, alongside a plan to shift to a nature-positive economy over the long-term.

The Scottish Government has committed to invest at least £500m in the natural economy over the course of this parliament, but the RSPB estimates that funding of at least £500m is needed annually in Scotland to deliver priority actions for nature alone. In addition the Global Finance Institute estimates that Scotland needs to spend a minimum £1.5bn a year above current government commitments to meet its nature related outcomes.

A mixture of public, private and third sector investment will be needed to close this funding gap and it is essential that government creates the right conditions for enabling and encouraging increased private sector investment in nature.

Photo credit: Andy Hay

There is an immediate chance, this week, for the Scottish Government to give nature some of the uplift in funding it needs, when it announces its 2022-23 Budget. So, what will we be looking out for in the budget? Here’s what RSPB Scotland is hoping to see for nature:

  • A £20m Nature Restoration Fund that provides multi-year funding for large-scale projects which tackle the 5 direct drivers of biodiversity loss on land and at sea.

  • Accelerator funding for the environment sector to help the sector develop the infrastructure, skills and capacity it will need for confidence and assurance in its ability to deliver nature restoration projects at-scale.

  • Reinstate government funding for nature. Whilst the scale of the nature crisis has become clear, the government’s nature agencies were subject to a 40% reduction in funding in real terms from 2010-2020. At a minimum, the government should reinstate funding for NatureScot to 2010 levels and ensure adequate funding to deliver on the new 2030 targets.

  • £55m funding for Agri-Environment Climate Schemes (AECS). AECS is vital for helping farmers and crofters deliver positive activities for wildlife and the climate. It is hugely welcome that AECS will reopen and continue to 2024. Reinstating funding for AECS to at least the level committed in 2016 (£54.1 million) will place the scheme in a better position to deliver on nature and climate goals.

  • A £250m Rainforest Restoration Fund. The Scottish Government has made a welcome commitment to restore and expand Scotland’s rainforest. RSPB Scotland is a member of the Alliance for Scotland’s Rainforest, which is calling for rainforest funding of £250m over 10-years.

  • Dedicated spend for delivering Natural Infrastructure across Scotland. The Infrastructure Investment Plan (IIP) incorporates natural infrastructure into the definition of infrastructure. We need a year-on-year increase in budget allocated to delivery of natural infrastructure.

  • Provide an equivalent to the Natural Environment Investment Readiness Fund that is suitable for Scotland, to encourage and stimulate responsible private investment to complement investment from the public, third and community sectors.

We will be tweeting our initial reactions to the budget when it is announced on Thursday, so look out for our take on whether nature has been given the priority it so desperately needs.

Investing in nature’s recovery on land and at sea will deliver widespread benefits across Scotland, such as improving public health and wellbeing; reducing flood risk; helping tackle and adapt to climate change; and creating nature-based jobs. This will build a vibrant, thriving and resilient economy, better equipped to deal with future shocks. The investment case is clear; the costs of inaction are stark.

Header photo credit: Andy Hay