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An autumn of hope

Rick Parfett, Senior Climate Change Specialist, and Rhiannon Shah, Business Lead for the Our Planet team | WWF | Net Zero Week

6 min read Partner content

The UK can lead the global ambition to put nature on the path to recovery by 2030, restore degraded ecosystems and allow nature and people to thrive

We know that our planet is warming fast, but we also know what steps we must take to halt climate change before the effects become even more severe. 2021 has the potential to be a turning point for nature and for taking bold action to reach net zero emissions by 2050. With the Environment Bill progressing through Parliament, the UN Biodiversity Conference (COP15) in October, and the UK holding the Presidency of the UN climate conference (COP26) in November, there are multiple opportunities this year for the UK Government to demonstrate global leadership on one of the biggest crises humanity has ever faced. 

Nature is in freefall and the impacts of climate change on people and planet are increasing. WWF’s new Feeling the Heat report reveals how the projected harm to unique and threatened systems increases immensely if we breach the 1.5°C target of the Paris Agreement. Iconic species threatened by the rise in temperatures, include bluebells, bumblebees and puffins here in the UK, along with snow leopards, leatherback turtles, hippos and even coffee plants further afield – with devastating consequences for coral reefs and our coast lines. This report shows how the decisions made at COP26 will have a huge impact on the world we live in, and it is therefore crucial the UK Government shows bold leadership at the conference and encourages other countries to take the necessary measures to leave a lasting legacy of a net zero and nature positive world.

Action begins at home. One vital step on the road to COP is for the Government to publish a detailed action plan showing how it will decarbonise every economic sector of the UK. This will help raise global ambition and accelerate the UK’s economy toward delivering net zero by 2050, at the latest. In the public sector, money should be spent on building a greener, cleaner future that will benefit all of us. Government should introduce a ‘net zero test’, requiring the Treasury to assess the climate impact of all spending and taxation decisions in its Budget or Spending Review and to ensure that the overall package is compliant with a net zero emissions trajectory.

Financial investments also need to be more sustainable, funding a new green economy and leaving dirty fossil-fuelled industries and deforestation behind. Last month WWF and Greenpeace’s eye-opening research found that a subset of the UK finance sector was responsible for financing 805 million tonnes of CO2 in 2019. This equates to 1.8 times the UK’s annual net emissions. To put this in stark terms, if those UK banks and investors were a country, they would be ranked the 9th biggest emitter of CO2 in the world – ahead of Germany. This makes the aligning the finance sector with our net zero and Paris commitments a huge opportunity to show sincere UK leadership on climate action. The UK could in fact be the first country to align its finance sector with the Paris Agreement, reaping the benefits of being a global leader in green finance and accelerating investment in the clean, green future we all want and need.

We also know we can’t solve the climate crisis by cutting emissions alone. We crucially need to address the decline in nature here and around the world. The UK is one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world: we have lost 98% of our wildflower meadows since 1930; we have 40 million fewer birds than in 1970; we have lost 90% of our seagrass beds; and only 14% of our rivers meet Good Ecological Status. So here again action must start at home.

Nature is our ally in tackling the climate crisis, so reversing its decline and supporting recovery must be at the heart of the plan to deliver the UK's ambitious climate goals to cut harmful emissions by 78%. With its vast ability to store carbon and cushion us from shocks like flooding, nature can be a true climate hero if we restore it. 

We would urge the Government to implement genuinely world-leading plans to set nature of the path to recovery by 2030, decarbonise land use and agriculture, and champion high-quality nature-based solutions - and encourage other countries to do the same. Crucially, we must also put an end to the consumption of products in the UK that rely on deforestation and the destruction of nature by passing laws through the Environment Bill that clean up supply chains. Critical landscapes like the Amazon are essential carbon sinks that help to regulate global temperatures, as well as homes to people and wildlife. Through strong due diligence measures, the UK can play a leading role in protecting the Amazon, which will then protect us in return.

We know that the public is interested in doing more. A recent study by The Economist Intelligence Unit showed an ‘eco-wakening’ amongst consumers all over the world. Searches for sustainable products have risen by 71% globally since 2019 (and by 800% here in the UK) showing that public concern for products that support our planet’s future, rather than deplete it, will be welcomed.

On top of this a recent OnePoll survey shows an overwhelming three-quarters of Brits believe that the UK Government should introduce a legal target for nature’s recovery by 2030. An overwhelming 76% would like the UK government to prioritise an action plan with other world leaders to tackle the climate and nature crisis, and sixty percent of respondents believe that if the UK leads on climate, other countries will follow.

The UK could lead this global ambition to put nature on the path to recovery by 2030, restore degraded ecosystems that are releasing greenhouse gases, and in turn reduce emissions and allow nature and people to thrive.

All of these actions would ensure COP26 is when we turn the tide on the nature and climate crises the world is facing. 2021 is a seminal year, it is up to all of us to grab this extraordinary opportunity to shape the future and leave a legacy of which we can all be truly proud. 


To find out more about what’s at stake if we continue with business-as-usual, join the authors of this article at WWF’s Our Planet: Our Business screening during Net Zero Week 2021 on 21st July at 14:00-15:15. Places are limited, CLICK HERE to reserve your spot

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