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The COP15 global biodiversity summit must deliver for wildlife and people

4 min read

More than ever, in a global cost of living crisis, delivering for nature requires social and economic justice. Labour has always been clear on this principle.

The most disadvantaged communities suffer the worst environmental impacts.  Homes flooded and swept away in deadly landslides.  Fields and livestock parched by drought.  Draughty, cold and damp homes. Children’s health blighted by dirty air. Sewage pumped into local rivers. Neighbourhoods without the green space that lockdown surely taught us are so essential for wellbeing.

For decades the UK has been one of the most nature-depleted countries. The Natural History Museum recently revealed the world has crashed through the “safe limit for humanity” for biodiversity loss and placed the UK 165 and last in the G7 for the state of our biodiversity.

Even some of our most iconic and much-loved British animals could soon be extinct, including the red squirrel, dormouse and even the hedgehog. Puffins are projected to decline by nine in 10 within 30 years. I was recently at RSPB Bempton Cliffs renowned for its puffins and couldn’t see a single one!  Very recently we have learned the shocking news of a near two thirds decline in flying insect numbers in England in just 16 years.

Instead of encouraging corporate greenwashing and offsets, climate action must halt extinction now and put nature on the path to recovery by 2030

But, behind the Conservatives’ grand environmental claims they constantly make the wrong choices, delay action and duck the urgent challenges.  Last year’s COP26 in Glasgow could have seen the UK lead the international debate.  Instead, the Budget, delivered as world leaders began to arrive, did not even mention climate change, gave a tax break for domestic flights and fell woefully short of the investment needed to deliver green jobs and a fair transition.

Despite having signed up in the Leaders’ Pledge for Nature and numerous other international commitments to reverse nature’s decline the Conservatives’ nature target – finally conceded after opposition pressure in the Environment Act – promises only to “halt the decline in species” by 2030.  We must immediately stop human-induced species extinction so that there is more nature in the world in 2030 than there was in 2020.

Deforestation is increasing across the planet and consumption in Britain helps drive it. But the Environment Act only covers illegal deforestation. Brazil, Australia, Indonesia and others still allow the legal destruction of rainforests. Water companies pumping sewage into rivers will only hasten the decline of endangered species, like my dear friend the White Clawed Crayfish our only native British crayfish which I find at the bottom of my street in the Meanwood Beck. 

This month’s Queen’s Speech broke the promise to deliver wildlife protection legislation banning trophy hunting and fur imports and there was no Nature Bill.  The Conservatives still require thousands of badgers to be killed unnecessarily, they have authorised bee-killing neonic pesticides, and failed to stop illegal hunting or effectively limit peat extraction and moorland burning.

Labour’s priorities for global action on biodiversity at COP15 are firstly, “be the change we want to see”. Action at home must showcase for the world how nature positive policy can practically be delivered across government. Rachel Reeves has committed Labour to a robust net-zero and nature test for every policy, backed with £28 billion a year investment to 2030. 

This month is the third anniversary of Labour forcing Parliament to be the first in the world to declare the climate and nature emergency.  So, secondly, we must challenge other countries to take up nature-based solutions like the Colombian landscape-scale rainforest project, absorbing carbon, restoring nature and providing a sustainable living for local people. Finally, we must stop the destruction. Instead of encouraging corporate greenwashing and offsets, climate action must halt extinction now and put nature on the path to recovery by 2030.

Some may argue action on the environment has to wait because we must focus on families who cannot afford both food and heating. But with the right choices transformational change can be delivered for our people and our planet. Our post-war Labour government not only tackled Beveridge’s five giants, set up the NHS and welfare state, they also introduced National Parks and countryside access.


Alex Sobel is the Labour (Co-op) MP for Leeds North West and shadow minister for nature recovery and the domestic environment.

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