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The government must set a truly nature positive target to reverse biodiversity loss by 2030

The government must set a truly nature positive target to reverse biodiversity loss by 2030

(Alamy)

5 min read

We’re in a race against time to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees and restore the damage to the natural world.

Governments across the world are setting bold commitments to tackle climate change and restore biodiversity, and yet—no matter how rapidly major economies decarbonise—it will be impossible to reach the “safe” 1.5 degrees limit without also taking immediate action to both halt and reverse the loss of nature.

It’s for this key reason that I’m amending my (Climate and) Ecology Bill—which passes through its committee stage today—to ensure it has a laser-like focus on reversing the decline of nature, ahead of the UN biodiversity summit, COP15, in December.

My bill will strengthen government policy by setting a truly nature positive target

All politicians seem to be united in agreeing that climate change is the greatest challenge we face as a species. But do we all accept that nature is the strongest ally we could hope for in this fight? Our forests, wetlands, grasslands, peatlands, soils and seas suck carbon out of the atmosphere. Indeed, our biggest terrestrial carbon stores are in peatlands—which cover 10 per cent of United Kingdom land—but many are in poor condition and have now become a major source of greenhouse gas emissions. At the same time, Earth’s ecosystems are essential in helping us adapt to the impact of the climate crisis. We must wake up to the reality that nature is essential in the fight for 1.5 degrees.

No. 10 seems to know this—and yet—we’re destroying nature faster than it can replenish itself. The UK is now one of the most nature-depleted nations on Earth. Over 40 per cent of UK species are in decline—more than 600 million birds have been lost from our skies over the past 40 years—and a quarter of UK mammals are threatened with extinction, including many once common species, such as the hedgehog.

It’s therefore vital—as my Ecology Bill will make clear—that we scale up ambition to protect and restore our precious natural world. As the government itself has agreed on dozens of occasions over recent years, we need the right targets in place to drive action to reverse biodiversity loss and deliver a nature positive UK by 2030.

And let’s not forget, our natural world isn’t a nice to have. It's all we have. Without it, we won’t be able to tackle the joint nature and climate crisis. And with it, we have a chance to not only succeed, but a chance to survive—and thrive. Biodiversity is critical to solving the climate crisis, as the government itself, alongside the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, the Climate Change Committee, and countless other businesses, NGOs, scientists and campaigners are telling us.

Today, at the bill’s committee stage debate, I’m hoping that the minister, Lord Callanan, will be pleased to hear that my bill is calling for something extremely simple. It’s asking the government to ensure that their environmental ambition is matched across all nature policies. I’ll be focusing especially on the bill’s nature target, which would require the government to do one straightforward thing, namely, to require the Secretary of State to achieve a new, strong, science-led nature target for the UK. A target that would ensure that Britain halts and reverses its overall contribution to the degradation and loss of nature by 2030.

How would this be achieved? First, by increasing the health, abundance, diversity and resilience of species, populations, habitats and ecosystem so that by 2030 (and measured against a baseline of 2020) nature is visibly and measurably on the path of recovery. And second, by fulfilling the government’s existing obligations under the UN Convention on Biological Diversity and the commitments set out in the Leaders’ Pledge for Nature.

This is a straightforward, perhaps procedural, issue. Reversing nature loss by 2030 is the government’s self-professed aim ahead of COP15. This ambition is repeated across dozens of policy documents and announcements—and echoed by experts from across the nations; including in the government’s Ten Point Plan for Financing Biodiversity; the government’s response to the Dasgupta Review; the Nature Positive 2030 report by the UK’s five statutory advisors; and supported by many nature organisations, including Zero Hour, RSPB and The Wildlife Trusts.

The government promised new, legally binding targets to help deliver the Conservative 2019 manifesto commitment to deliver the most ambitious environmental programme of any country on Earth. Given the delay in the publication of those targets, I’m hopeful that my bill will persuade ministers to bring the Environment Act targets into line with government policy.

I believe that we have a once in a generation opportunity to create a net zero, nature positive future—and that setting the right targets is the first step in realising this vision. My bill will strengthen government policy by setting a truly nature positive target to halt and reverse biodiversity decline by 2030. This is a straightforward change that the new Secretary of State—Thérèse Coffey MP—could deliver as Defra prepares to publish the (delayed) Environment Act targets. And it’s something that the Prime Minister can shout about ahead of, and at, COP15.

This is a proposal supported by peers, MPs, councillors; and organisations as diverse as The Co-operative Bank, CPRE, Greenpeace, Oxfam, Women’s Institutes, British Ecological Society, Surfers Against Sewage, Zoological Society of London—and hundreds more. There is near universal support for this 2030 reversal target, not least the government itself,  who—through their own Ten Point Plan for Financing Biodiversity—remind us that nature is our source of life, but it is being destroyed at an unprecedented rate, throwing our planet into one of the most dramatic extinction crises in history.

The government is right. We must urgently invest in solutions that halt and reverse the decline of biodiversity by 2030.

 

Lord Redesdale, Liberal Democrat peer. 

Zero Hour, the campaign for the Climate and Ecology Bill, is also seeking to re-introduce the full bill, with all-party support, in the House of Commons in the coming weeks.

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