The pathway to nature’s recovery is becoming clearer – now it is time to invest 

 

A few weeks ago, a major UN report by the world’s leading climate scientists (the IPCC report) delivered the stark message that human activity is changing the climate in unprecedented and sometimes irreversible ways. Some of the recent extreme weather events around the world, including heatwaves, wildfires and flooding, remind us that climate change is not a future problem, but is already unfolding around us. However, the IPCC report also made clear that catastrophe can be avoided if we act fast. We must not despair, but instead galvanise and come together to tell our governments that there is no time left to delay. As we dial up the volume on the climate conversation, we must not forget about nature.  

 We are not just facing a climate emergency but a nature and climate emergency, a twin crisis that must be tackled as one. Nature is being lost around the world faster than ever. 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.  

Restoring nature can be a huge part of the climate solution, as restoring habitats like peatlands, native woodlands, coastal habitats and our oceans to a healthy state will help lock up carbon, as well as helping wildlife to thrive. Many people are also waking up to the many ways that nature supports and enriches our lives; restoring nature is vital for a truly green recovery from the pandemic, one that delivers green jobs and builds a more resilient future. 

 

Tackling the nature and climate emergency, as one, must be the key ambition of the Scottish Government for this term and a green thread that runs through everything it does. We have recently seen the first tests of this Scottish Government’s appetite to deliver real change: the cooperation agreement between the Scottish Government and the Scottish Greens and the 2021-22 Programme for Government, which was published on Tuesday and sets the direction of the next year.  

 

There is much to welcome in these policy programmes. In the shared policy agreement, there are some significant commitments that will help place Scotland’s nature on a pathway to recovery, if they are delivered effectively. The Nature Restoration Fund will make a significant contribution to landscape-scale ecosystem restoration, if it is of a sufficient scale, as multi-annual financing is critical for delivery of nature restoration projects at-scale. The commitment to highly protect 10% of Scotland’s seas from damaging and extractive activities is absolutely crucial for securing the health of our Marine Protected Areas and is something RSPB Scotland, WWF Scotland and Scottish Wildlife Trust called for in our joint Nature Recovery Plan.  

 Above all, we welcome the commitment to a Natural Environment Bill that would include targets to halt the decline of nature by 2030 and drive substantial improvements in nature by 2045. RSPB Scotland and other environmental NGOs at Scottish Environment LINK have been campaigning for the last few years to secure legally-binding targets to drive forward the restoration of nature, so we are delighted to finally see this really significant commitment. However, it is disappointing that this legislation will not be brought forward until year 3 of the Parliament – nature is in trouble and there is no time left to delay. We urge the Scottish Government and the Scottish Green Party not to lose momentum and to work together to bring forward this crucial bill as soon as possible.  

The Programme for Government set out which of the commitments in the shared policy agreement would be progressed this year including a promise to improve protections for nature in Scotland’s seas and confirmation that a new Scottish Biodiversity Strategy will be published in the next 12 months. These commitments will help Scotland’s nature to recover from the precarious state it’s in. However, overall we were disappointed that the green thread of tackling the nature and climate emergency together did not shine through the Scottish Government’s plans for the coming year and felt there was a missing sense of urgency, as many important commitments have been put back to subsequent years of this Parliament. 

The eyes of the world are shortly to turn to Glasgow, where world leaders will gather at COP26 to decide a plan of action on climate change. The Scottish Government must lead by example and set out ambitious plans for nature’s recovery as part of their approach to tackling climate change.  

Later in the year, the next Scottish Government budget must be the greenest budget yet, and the promised Nature Restoration Fund must be transformative and large-scale if it is to stand a chance of tackling the main drivers of nature loss. We also need to see substantial budgetary support for nature’s recovery throughout the lifecycle of this parliament – multi-year funding for the Nature Restoration Fund is a welcome first step, but significant additional funding must be made available in order to make the kind of change needed.  

The last 10 years was a lost decade for nature, with a collective failure of global leaders to meet the 2020 international targets for nature. This has shown us that whilst the direction of travel on policy is hugely welcome, without investment delivery of these policies will be slow and inadequate. There is no time left to delay. The Scottish Government can be a world leader on tackling the nature and climate emergency through shared solutions if it turns these positive commitments into action.  

RSPB Scotland wants to see: 

  1. The commitment to legally-binding nature recovery targets to be delivered as soon as possible, with the Natural Environment Bill brought forward by the end of 2022. 
  2. Ambition to be matched with investment, with a significant uplift in funding for nature to be committed throughout the lifecycle of this Scottish Parliament and for the promised Nature Restoration Fund to be transformative and large-scale. 
  3. A clear delivery plan for rolling out Nature Networks in every local authority, that work together at scale, creating joined up greenspaces for wildlife and people. 
  4. Reform of farming policy to transform Scotland’s food and farming systems to ensure food is produced in nature and climate positive ways. 

There is a lot you can do ahead of the United Nations Climate Conference (COP26) in Glasgow in November to remind our leaders that they must address the nature crises in lockstep with the climate crisis. In addition to joining us for Nature Day on 6 November at events around the country, watch out on RSPB social media for more ways to let the government know that the commitments they make must be upheld by detailed and urgent policy action.   

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