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Fri, 27 November 2020

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We must tackle both the nature and climate crises together

We must tackle both the nature and climate crises together

It can often feel that the ‘green recovery’ narrative is about climate change alone. But investing in the natural environment can be a unifier, says Dr Darren Moorcroft | Credit: PA Images

Dr Darren Moorcroft, CEO | Woodland Trust

6 min read Partner content

It is clear that restoring nature and delivering for people go hand in hand, and that requires a stronger emphasis from government on nature in its environment plans.

Recent days have been dominated by talk of a so-called ‘re-set’ by the government and it is encouraging that this has generally been seen as meaning that environmental commitments will be more to the fore – as demonstrated by the PM’s recent ten point announcement. 

At the Woodland Trust we were pleased to hear that £40m is being put into nature including woodland creation, peatland and wetland restoration. Much more will be needed though and we seek clarity that this is ‘new’ money not merely a bringing forward of money from the Nature for Climate Fund promised in the Conservative manifesto.

Contrast this with the sums being spent on road building and HS2 and it is clear that this can only be seen as the beginning if we are serious about a ‘green recovery.’

It was pleasing too to see the PM’s plan this week talk about planting 30 000 ha of trees a year. However, as the Woodland Trust made clear in its Emergency Tree Plan for the UK (launched at Westminster earlier this year), we need ambitious country level targets for quality and quantity of new tree cover.

This should include a focus on native trees to tackle the nature and climate crises together.

Post-2025 we will need to see ambition rise further right across the UK in order to achieve 19% woodland cover by 2050.

Worryingly however this week has also seen grumbling that the environment agenda might be pursued at the expense of the ‘levelling up’ agenda - with the implication that the two are somehow in tension.

Projects such as the ground-breaking Northern Forest, led by the Woodland Trust and the community forests, show that this is far from the case.

This will deliver many benefits to communities across the north of England over the coming years hand in hand with wider regeneration initiatives.

Too often it can feel that the ‘green recovery’ narrative is about climate change alone. But investing in the natural environment can be a unifier - transforming how people feel about where they live and making sure that the UK’s stated aspirations for global leadership on the environment are meaningful on the ground to as many people as possible.

The Environment Bill needs to be as transformative for the natural environment as net zero legislation has been for the climate change agenda.

Improving the natural environment delivers jobs too – not just in activity like planting trees but in ensuring that we plant the right trees which will protect our natural environment for generations to come.

That is why  - as part what needs to be a strong overall focus on the environment - we are calling for next week’s Spending Review to really invest in UK nurseries to grow the trees that we need to plant in the UK.  

We cannot simply rely on imported trees as this would lead to an increase in new tree diseases, thereby undermining the government’s own planting ambitions.

There are other key steps that would signal that the government means business when it comes to tackling the nature as well as the climate crisis.

Last week’s announcement of a UK Green Sovereign Bond was great news - we would now like to see the government make clear that this will also fund a major enhancement of the natural environment.

There are other areas of critical detail that must be addressed too for a truly ‘green recovery’.

News of a rethink on planning reform is welcome but that needs to be about more than resetting algorithms that allocate housing.

It means looking at how on earth a situation came to pass that ancient woodland and veteran trees didn’t even feature in the so-called protected category just two years after government heralded the strengthening of protection for them in the National Planning Policy Framework. That does not constitute environmental progress.

We now want to see government show over the coming weeks that its desire to tackle both the nature and climate crises together matches the rhetoric we have seen on the world stage.

And then there is HS2. Jarringly out of step with the government’s stated environmental ambitions,  this disconnect has been tolerated by No 10 and the Treasury for far too long and cannot be allowed to go on. We must, at the very least, see far more strenuous efforts to minimise its impact and report properly on the steps taken to do so.

Back in Parliament recent weeks have seen the landmark Agriculture Act achieve Royal Assent but there is plenty to do to ensure that when it comes to delivery, its original intention of rewarding land managers for delivering public goods is not diluted.

And finally the Environment Bill is once more moving through the Commons after a long pause since the beginning of the Covid crisis.

Welcome though that is and once hailed by government as the ‘lodestar’ of its legislative programme, it needs amending to reflect the challenges we face.

Not the kind of amendment we have seen from the government which seemingly compromises the independence of the new post-EU watchdog,  the Office for Environmental Protection,  but amendments such as a headline target to reverse nature’s decline (we are one of the most nature depleted nations on the planet) .

The Environment Bill needs to be as transformative for the natural environment as net zero legislation has been for the climate change agenda.

In the immediate aftermath of the EU Referendum there was a consensus that however people voted no one voted for a poor environment and that environmental improvement could be a unifying force.

Halfway through Lockdown 2 it is clear once more how much people cherish the opportunity to access green space close to where they live.

At the Woodland Trust access to our sites is free regardless of where people live.

The spirit of empowerment informs campaigns like our Big Climate Fightback and we have made our own commitment to 50 million trees over the next 5 years a centrepiece of that campaign.

We now want to see government show over the coming weeks that its desire to tackle both the nature and climate crises together matches the rhetoric we have seen on the world stage and that it wants the UK to be a showcase for action when it comes to the natural environment.

 

 

 

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