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Protecting and restoring nature is key to reach our net zero targets

(Alamy)

4 min read

Yesterday Zero Hour launched their latest report, Net Zero: The Ambition Gap. This landmark guide sets out in clear, concise terms why the United Kingdom must up its ambition if we’re serious about limiting global heating to 1.5C and pulling back from dangerous tipping points.

Written with world-leading scientists, and aligned with the latest, peer-reviewed science, Zero Hour’s report is designed as a reference guide for politicians and policymakers; and we must see action.

The government itself has warned that if we allow heating to rise above 1.5C, we may “lose control of our climate for good”. And with the Earth now potentially heading for up to a catastrophic 3C of warming—and the UK set to miss key climate targets (carbon budgets)—we’re running out of time to get to grips with this challenge.

It’s clear we need to strengthen legislative protections, not water them down

As part of realigning UK policy with the science, the report explains why even meeting our existing targets won’t be sufficient to avoid surging past 1.5C — and why those targets must be realigned — as highlighted by the recent High Court ruling that the UK government’s strategy is unlawful.

Zero Hour’s report, endorsed by an array of eminent scientists, is the first independent publication to focus on the gap between UK targets and what’s necessary for 1.5C. And though there’s undoubtedly a long list of serious concerns on the agenda, it’s imperative that we talk about the ambition gap now; whilst there’s still time to do something about it. If not — if we fail to address climate change — its impacts will quickly grow and dwarf all other concerns.

The report’s central message is that the focus of the net-zero strategy — carbon emissions — is only half of the story. It explains how the climate and nature crises are intertwined, drawing on scientific evidence that reveals nature’s fundamental role in regulating the climate; a role largely overlooked in the net-zero strategy. In fact, research from the Natural History Museum and RSPB ranks the UK home nations in the 12 most nature-depleted in the world—and politicians, NGOs and the public warning of an “attack on nature” has brought to national attention the risk of stripping back UK environmental protections in the midst of collapsing ecosystems and widespread biodiversity loss.

Zero Hour’s report explains why large-scale restoration of nature must sit at the heart of the net-zero strategy — to help prevent catastrophic climate breakdown, to sustain our food system, to protect our health and our economy, and to help us adapt to more frequent and serious heat waves and flooding.

The cross-party Climate and Ecology Bill, supported by over 160 MPs and peers, 200 councils, 450 organisations and 120 leading scientists is the viable, science-led and people-powered plan the UK needs to reduce our emissions in line with 1.5C, and restore the damage done to nature. If enacted, the bill would create a new statutory commitment that is guided by the latest science. It’s the only legislation before Parliament that offers a science-led and joined-up approach to the climate-nature crisis.

Some may think there are too many other concerns to be worrying about climate change. But the solutions to the climate, energy and cost of living crises are one and the same. Taking the climate crisis seriously means a rapid transition to cheap, clean power — ending our reliance on, and funding of, tyrannical regimes like Vladimir Putin’s Russia. It also means cleaning our polluted air, which kills up to 36,000 people a year in the UK, and insulating our leaky housing stock, providing warm homes for all alongside scaling up of cheap, clean public transport.

Enacting the CE Bill would ensure that we get moving on restoring nature. That means acting on scientific advice and—as the Climate Change Committee has recommended—reducing meat and dairy consumption, which will free up land for nature and save our rivers from ecological collapse. It’s clear we need to strengthen legislative protections, not water them down (or scrapping them altogether).

The UK is only one family of nations, but as the first to have industrialised, we are the fifth largest cumulative emitter of carbon dioxide. We have a particular responsibility now, for current and future generations, to set an example. Britain led the way with the then world-leading Climate Change Act 2008 and did so again with its legislative commitment to net zero. In both cases, other states followed suit.

Let’s lead again and establish the Climate & Ecology Bill as a gold standard which other nations can follow.

 

Caroline Lucas, Green Party MP for Brighton Pavilion. Hywel Williams, Plaid Cymru MP for Arfon.

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