Last week Environment Secretary, George Eustice, unveiled a range of policy announcements for nature’s recovery, including new peat and tree strategies, increased funding, a species reintroduction taskforce and a new legally-binding target in the Environment Bill to halt nature’s decline by 2030.
We have seen announcements from our government before which have usually lacked teeth or ambition, but I’m hopeful that this time is different, despite the fact these commitments are far from perfect (read this for more information on what needs to happen next.)
Most people in the UK are now aware that burning fossil fuels causes climate breakdown and the destabilisation of our planet’s systems. Most are also aware that trees store carbon and that deforestation further contributes to the climate crisis. But far fewer are aware of the wider interdependencies between climate and nature.
Nature is vital in our battle against the climate crisis as thriving habitats can safely lock up vast amounts of carbon, while providing other vital benefits that help us adapt, such as flood prevention, clean water and improved health and wellbeing.
Meanwhile the climate crisis compounds the current pressures on nature in a myriad of ways, and causes further declines in nature, including through directly changing the abundance (how many there are) and distribution (where they are) of countless species, which could impact breeding, food sources, or even the interactions between species (for example between pollinators and plants). Climate change may also directly affect the health and integrity of ecosystems through changing temperatures, weather patterns or extreme weather events.
As our Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, put it, the climate crisis and biodiversity loss are “two sides of the same coin”, but that coin has been stuck climate-side up for the last few years, with our government’s policies not reflecting that we need to be tackling the climate and ecological emergency together.
These announcements mark a shift towards us treating the ecological emergency as equal to the climate emergency.
When announcing the legally binding targets for nature’s recovery by 2030, Eustice likened the target to the government’s net-zero climate target which over the last few years has driven climate action, investment, innovation and behaviour change from the government, businesses and citizens alike.
The government’s announcement this week has the potential to kick-start nature’s political revival. If the details of the commitments are right, this will strengthen the UK’s hand in the upcoming negotiations at the G7, COP 15 and COP 26 and inspire ambitious targets, policies and investments for wildlife around the world.
Our first opportunity is in June at the G7 summit the UK is hosting in Cornwall, where some of the world’s wealthiest nations will come together to discuss nature and climate as one of four key policy priorities. Next, in October we will see nations coming together in China for the United Nations Biodiversity Conference COP15, which will set international targets for nature’s recovery. Finally, the UK is hosting the United Nations Climate Conference COP26 in Glasgow, which is a real opportunity for the UK to push for commitments and investments for nature-based solutions to climate change, while also providing numerous other societal benefits.
I’m optimistic that this will be the ‘super year’ for nature and climate - it would be a seismic failure if we do not seize this moment to pave the way to a better future that places climate, nature and people at the centre.