Isn’t the UK already addressing the nature crisis?

Isn’t the UK already addressing the nature crisis?

No. The warning bells are ringing from all directions:

  • The UK is one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world. UK nations are all rated amongst the 12 worst in the world at protecting nature, with England the 7th worst – according to a shocking new report from the Natural History Museum with RSPB.
  • UK woodland cover is just 14.5% of our land area compared to a European average of 38%, and our uplands are nearly all bare, contributing to lowland flooding. Government plans to expand woodland cover by only 2% to 16.5% by 2050. This is far from enough when UK ecosystems are facing such danger.
  • 80% of UK peatlands are degraded and now account for over 4% of our emissions. The Office for National Statistics estimates that restoring all UK peatlands “would deliver carbon benefits alone of £109 billion and would outweigh the costs by an estimated 5 to 10 times.”
  • WWF and ZSL’s 2022 Living Planet report shows that our future is critically dependent on biodiversity and a stable climate but we have lost an average of around 70% of biodiversity. It confirms that unsustainable land-use and sea-use caused by our food system is the biggest threat, destroying or fragmenting habitats.
  • The WWF report Thriving Within our Planetary Means shows that the UK’s overseas land footprint for just seven commodities takes up a land area almost equal to the size of the UK itself.
  • RSPB’s 2019 State of Nature Report warned that we have continued to allow nature to decline in the UK in the last decade, with 1 in 7 species facing extinction.
  • Rates of decline have continued unabated. Government figures on wild birds in England show that over the short-term period between 2015 and 2020 47% of species declined.

We can hopefully all agree that protecting nature is important for its own sake, but nature is also inextricably bound up with climate change. Protecting and restoring nature is also part of the solution to climate change, with critical ecosystems like peat bogs, tidal marshes, forests and sea grasses able to absorb vast quantities of CO2 from the atmosphere and help us adapt to some of the worst impacts of climate change such as flooding, drought and overheating. We are currently destroying many of these environments and releasing CO2, making climate change even worse.

By passing the CAN Bill, the government would be making a legally-binding commitment to halt and reverse decline and protect nature, as well as formally recognising the inter-relationship with climate change in order to encourage joined-up thinking. There is no other proposed legislation that would halt the destruction of important ecosystems like woodlands, peat bogs, wetlands and seas.

The Government’s Environment Act is sometimes held up as a solution to the crisis facing nature, but its main purpose is to tie up loose ends post-Brexit. It does not contain strong enough targets or the kind of bold policy action needed to respond to the stark warnings from scientists. The Environment Act only aims to halt decline of a limited number of species by 2030 and increase numbers by only 10% by 2042. At current rates of decline that is likely to result in less nature than we have now, in 2023.

The Government is relying on farmers to deliver the majority of the work to reach it’s targets on nature, including 80% of its flagship target to create 500,000 hectares of wildlife-rich habitat in England, outside of protected areas by 2042. That amount of land is only 2% of England and the Government is relying on farmers to deliver at least 80% through new stewardship schemes, the Environmental Land Management Schemes (ELMS), which are voluntary, not legally binding and therefore cannot guarantee success.

Over recent decades, we have witnessed an extraordinary decline in biodiversity and the ecosystem services essential to life. From pollination & natural flood prevention, to crop nutrition provided by soils, we depend on a healthy biosphere. Humankind is part of the circle of life, not outside of it. Yet for decades, human activity has outstripped safe planetary boundaries, resulting in what scientists now define as the arrival of the sixth mass extinction. Experts now warn of looming ecological collapse if policymakers fail to take emergency action – see World Wildlife Fund article.

In his foreword to report on biodiversity, the Dasgupta Review, (commissioned by the UK Government) David Attenborough says:
“Today, we ourselves, together with the livestock we rear for food, constitute 96% of the mass of all mammals on the planet. Only 4% is everything else – from elephants to badgers, from moose to monkeys. And 70% of all birds alive at this moment are poultry – mostly chickens for us to eat. We are destroying biodiversity, the very characteristic that until recently enabled the natural world to flourish so abundantly. If we continue this damage, whole ecosystems will collapse. That is now a real risk.”

RSPB’s State of Nature Report warns that despite the Government making a commitment to nature in 2010 as part of a UN biodiversity treaty (Aichi Biodiversity Targets for 2020), we have continued to allow nature to decline in the UK in the last decade, with 1 in 7 species facing extinction. RSPB’s Lost Decade Report explains how, ten years on from the UN treaty, the UK has failed on 14 of the 20 biodiversity commitments it made

There is nowhere near enough Government focus on this issue which is inextricably bound up with climate change. The two need to be tackled together, with an appreciation of their interdependencies and we need transformation in our economy, particularly our energy and food systems to turn the tide, not just conservation measures. This is why we need the CAN Bill to create a legal obligation to protect and restore nature, whilst ensuring that policies work hand in hand with those addressing climate change.

The good news is that nature can heal quickly if we just give it the chance. Read about the groundbreaking wilding project at the Knepp estate in Sussex.

Discover more frequently asked questions about Zero Hour, the Climate & Nature Bill, Climate Change, and the Nature Crisis.

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