Caroline Lucas: we are failing to heed nature's warning signs – the Tory leadership candidates must step up and address it
It’s always important to heed the warning signs. In February, as the world’s eyes were rightly on the horrors unfolding in Eastern Europe, a major new report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – which warned that our natural world is already starting to see irreversible damage – went almost unnoticed.
From bleached coral reefs to wildfires, the world’s very best natural carbon sinks like peatland (and our best defence against climate change) are being destroyed in front of our very eyes.
But our government is failing to heed those warnings. Later this year, the long-awaited COP15 – the most significant biodiversity conference in a generation – will be taking place in Canada this December. Yet to date, there have been no debates or ministerial statements on COP15 in the House of Commons. Despite the world’s media descending on COP26 last November and MPs engaging with COP26 President Alok Sharma in Parliament, no such attention is being paid to the upcoming COP15.
The United Kingdom has become one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world. The Natural History Museum has found that the UK only has half of its natural biodiversity left, putting us last in the G7 in terms of surviving biodiversity.
We must ensure that whatever targets are set and policies agreed at COP15, countries are held accountable to them
Our government has totally failed on various fronts: bumblebees, already in decline, are under even greater threat after overruling its own scientific advisors to allow the use of neonicotinoids; waterways are awash with raw sewage; and peatlands are still being burned. The neglect of our natural landscape and destruction of species has gone on for far too long.
Based on the comments and pledges from the Tory leadership candidates so far, it seems like any semblance of care for our planet is off the agenda. In the past week alone, we’ve heard Kemi Badenoch label net zero as “unilateral economic disarmament”, while Suella Braverman has vowed to scrap the 2050 target after courting the backing of Steve Baker – a man who described teaching children about the climate crisis as “child abuse”.
As this race to the right-wing gains ever greater momentum, it’s staggering that no candidate is willing to pick up the mantle of Thatcher’s environmentalism – who while in office warned of “the prospect of irretrievable damage to the atmosphere, to the oceans, to earth itself”.
Let’s not forget – climate and nature are inextricably linked. As climate change accelerates, the natural world spirals into decline. Likewise, the loss of vital carbon sinks such as mangroves could result in greater sea level rise, coastal flooding, and warmer temperatures – and so the spiral continues. Yet the reverse is also true. Protecting biodiversity hotspots, from peat bogs to eucalyptus forests, will be vital in helping us to limit global temperatures to 1.5°C.
Protecting nature doesn’t just make environmental sense, but economic sense too. Professor Dasgupta, whose review on the economics of biodiversity launched last year, remarked: “we have been pursuing a development path in which natural capital has been declining.” The World Economic Forum finds that $44 trillion of economic value generation – over half the world’s GDP – is moderately or highly dependent on nature. Meanwhile, we’re still spending $1.8 trillion a year on tax breaks for beef production in the Amazon, and groundwater pumping in the Middle East.
So today, I am holding Parliament’s first ever debate on how COP15 can mobilise action to protect and restore nature. My aims are clear.
We need a joined-up approach across climate and nature policy. Protecting and restoring the natural world can help to mitigate the worst effects of climate change, through measures such as tree-planting, restoring our sea grass meadows, revitalising peatlands, and replanting our hedgerows.
We need to halt and reverse the frightening loss of biodiversity – urgently developing new measures of economic success which genuinely value nature would be a good place to start.
In addition to ensuring that an ambitious framework is agreed, we must ensure that whatever targets are set and policies agreed at COP15 this summer, countries are held accountable to them. Deadlines have come and gone before, and without success. The world failed to fully achieve any of the 20 Aichi biodiversity targets agreed at COP10 in 2010, which sought to slow the destruction of nature. This is why it’s so important that we’re prepared for the COP15 convention taking place this December.
MPs of all parties should heed these warnings, join the debate, and help protect our natural world. Particularly from the devastating impacts of not only climate change, but also mass-scale industrial agriculture, plastic pollution, and habitat destruction.
As the ever-prescient David Attenborough said late last year: “The benefits provided by nature are indispensable for making human life both possible and worth living.” It’s time we started looking after it.
Caroline Lucas is the Green Party MP for Brighton Pavilion.
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