Environment Bill must commit to reverse nature loss by 2030
Committing to reverse nature loss by 2030 is an opportunity for us to show environmental leadership by becoming the first country to set an ambitious legally-binding target for nature’s recovery.
It was a Republican President, Teddy Roosevelt, who first warned of the perils of depleting our natural capital, lamenting that “we have…diminished the resources upon which not only our prosperity but the prosperity of our children and our children’s children must always depend”. His message still endures today as we grapple with the economic and security threats posed by the depletion of nature and its essential services. But we can lead the way in finally turning the tide on ecological decline by taking the opportunity to put the Prime Minister’s commitment to reverse nature loss by 2030 into law when the Environment Bill returns to Parliament.
Teddy Roosevelt is remembered as the conservationist president for his role in establishing what is now America’s National Park System. He is one of a long line of centre-right leaders who recognised the bond between conservation and conservatism, or, as Edmund Burke put it, our moral responsibility not to squander our natural inheritance lest we “leave those who come after… a ruin instead of a habitation”. Former Australian Prime Minister Malcom Fraser introduced the National Parks and Conservation Act and created the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, and Margaret Thatcher’s government introduced the legislation which still protects our most threatened species today.
That legacy of green conservatism is clearly embodied in this Conservative government. The landmark Environment Bill puts the environment at the centre of policy making across government, and includes world leading provisions to recover nature, from the obligation on businesses to tackle deforestation in their supply chains to the local nature recovery strategies which will map the restoration of our precious local habitats such as peatlands, woodlands and salt marshes.
Tackling climate change and biodiversity loss’ must be the UK’s number one international priority
This enthusiasm for conservation is shared by the British people: we are a nation of nature lovers. Indeed, during lockdown, nature has been a constant source of enjoyment and respite for many, with 77% of people reporting that visiting nature has been important for their general health and happiness.
We are becoming increasingly aware of just how critical nature is to our health and economic stability—providing us with food, energy and recreational opportunities while regulating our climate and the transmission of disease.
In Britain, our natural environment supports over 750,000 jobs and generates over £2.75 billion in economic output, and we could save £2.1 billion in healthcare costs each year if everyone in England had access to good green space. Nature nurtures and nourishes us, and as the recent Treasury-commissioned review into the economics of biodiversity led by Professor Dasgupta stresses, our economies are embedded within and bounded by the earth’s biosphere.
Conserving the natural environment is also a geo-political issue. The government’s recent Integrated Review of British Foreign Policy found that biodiversity loss drives instability, migration, and poverty—with a projected cumulative cost of $10 trillion between 2011 and 2050. It concluded that "tackling climate change and biodiversity loss" must be the UK’s "number one international priority".
Yet, nature is in decline across Britain, with 41% of species falling in abundance since 1970 and over 11 million people in England living in areas deprived of green space. That is why the Environment Bill—the first of its kind in over 20 years—is so important for our future health and prosperity.
While the Bill is paused, we believe there is time for at least one further major improvement: to put into legislation the Prime Minister’s important commitment in the UN Leaders’ Pledge for Nature to halt and reverse biodiversity loss by 2030.
Amending the Environment Bill to include this target would accelerate crucial efforts to save British wildlife like hedgehogs, whose numbers have halved since 2000, and turtle doves, who potentially face extinction from British soil. It would also ensure that other government policies, such as the new zonal planning system, our new farm payments scheme replacing the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy, and the national Nature Recovery Network are ambitious enough to put nature on a pathway to recovery by 2030.
This is another opportunity for Conservatives to show environmental leadership by becoming the first country to set an ambitious legally-binding target for nature’s recovery. We can be an example to the world—in the same way our net zero target has been emulated across the globe. Furthermore, it would align our domestic environmental legislation with the new set of international biodiversity targets for 2030 being negotiated at the UN Convention on Biological Diversity in China later this year, and strengthen ministers’ hands at the summit as they push to secure a global deal to halt and begin reversing biodiversity loss by the end of the decade.
Our natural world is in a precarious state, but in the year in which we are hosting the UN climate summit in Glasgow and the G7 in Cornwall, the UK has a unique opportunity to lead the world in recovering our natural heritage for future generations—starting with our flagship piece of environmental legislation. To do so would be in keeping with the rich tradition of green conservatism, and finally put pay to the perilous trend identified by President Roosevelt more than a century ago.
Andrew Rosindell is the Conservative MP for Romford. Lord Randall is a Conservative member of the House of Lords.