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Good COP, bad COP? How Britain can lead the way on global nature protection

4 min read

A gulf exists between the urgency and importance of halting biodiversity losses, restoring nature and the amount of actual efforts being made to do so. COP15 is a crucial moment to turn the tide.

Imagine a world without your favourite animals, trees and flowers.

We’re living through a nature crisis every bit as serious as the climate emergency.

Biodiversity - birds, bees, bugs, butterflies - is vital for life on earth, from sparrows in your garden to plants and creatures in the Amazon rainforest. But it is declining at a rapid and unprecedented rate. As many as 37,000 species of animals, plants and fungi worldwide are threatened with extinction according to the latest Red List from the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

We know how the natural world works; every bit is interconnected. We upset nature’s delicate balances at our peril. There’s a clear and present danger from the loss of biodiversity to the whole future of life on earth, affecting every aspect of our lives and society.

In October the world is due to gather for a UN Biodiversity Conference (COP15) hosted by China, to agree a new international framework for this decade in a bid to halt biodiversity losses. Based on current indications, COP15 won’t deliver what’s needed at this critical time.

We’ve been here before. In 2010 countries agreed ambitious (Aichi) targets but these haven’t resulted in desperately needed action. A gulf exists between the urgency and importance of halting biodiversity losses, restoring nature and the amount of actual efforts being made to do so.

If COP15 fails to galvanise urgently needed action then whatever is agreed won’t be worth the recycled paper it’s written on

We need a new plan with clear targets and processes for monitoring how countries are doing.

Crucially, we need funding, public and private, funnelled into positive activity and to move the world away from harmful activity.

Our own ministers must give biodiversity the priority it deserves across government. They have made some positive contributions towards COP15 preparations and to addressing biodiversity and climate change, but greater urgency is needed from our government and all others.

My committee has written to Environment Secretary George Eustice to set out what we’ve heard in our short inquiry about what needs to happen to make COP15 a success, and what our government could and should do.

We must increase diplomatic efforts on key sticking points ahead of COP15, such as funding for biodiversity action.

Re-establish trust with developing countries, recognising that the failure to ensure global access to Covid-19 vaccines and cuts to overseas aid have damaged trust.

Enhance coordination between COP15 and COP26 (the climate change conference which Britain will host later this year) whilst working to improve relations with China so that progress in this area of common interest can be achieved.

Promote action on biodiversity at the World Trade Organization. Protecting and restoring biodiversity should be a central consideration in the negotiation of new trade deals too and the government must report on the effects on biodiversity of any new agreements; and

Support the development of clear, consistent and robust requirements for businesses to report on their biodiversity impacts.

The government’s Environment Bill should include an ambitious, overarching ‘state of nature’ target too that everyone can rally round and be a launch pad for a sustained public communications campaign showing people how they can play their part in restoring nature.

We commend the government for some of its COP15 work, but major issues are still to be resolved in the negotiations and Britain could play an important role. There is much more that the government can and must do to at home and through international channels to halt biodiversity losses and to harness the benefits of protecting and restoring nature.

We hope that our government will devote resources and attention to promoting positive links between biodiversity and climate change, development and trade.

If this is to be the decade when we turn the tide against catastrophic biodiversity losses, COP15 is a crucial moment.

All of us stand to benefit if success can be achieved at COP15 but if it fails to galvanise urgently needed action then whatever is agreed won’t be worth the recycled paper it’s written on and we’ll all suffer.


Baroness Parminter is a Liberal Democrat peer and chair of the House of Lords Environment and Climate Change Committee.

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Read the most recent article written by Baroness Parminter - The UK’s climate policy backtrack is bad for the planet and the economy