‘Formidable coalition’ of policymakers and NGOs rap Rishi Sunak for biodiversity rollbacks

One in six species in the UK are considered at risk of extinction

The accusation forms part of an open letter published in The Independent on Friday (6 October) as part of the Nature 2030 campaign, which implores all major political parties to set out meaningful and credible plans to halt and reverse nature loss in the UK.

It was revealed recently that one in six of the UK’s plant and animal species are now at risk of extinction. Even for those species not at risk, there has been an average decline in abundance of 19% since 1970. Worryingly, that decline rises to 54% for flowering plants and 43% for birds.

These are all findings from the State of Nature Report. This includes data from 60 organisations including the National Trust and Natural History Museum.

The new open letter states that “the response from a collection of dedicated organisations” will not suffice to slow the accelerated decline in nature. Further Government intervention, it argues, is needed.

The State of Nature Report notably concluded that the UK is not on track to restore degraded habitat in line with the Government’s 2030 goals. Indeed, it would miss these goals even with an extra 20 years to do so, without further intervention.

The open letter points to “a decade of inaction from the Government” and urges policymakers to not only set credible, legally binding targets but to also work with councils, businesses, academia, NGOs and the general public to deliver them.

The UK Government did set new, legally binding targets on topics such as air pollution, water quality and waste under the Environment Act, but they are widely regarded as too weak. Additionally, the UK’s environmental watchdog concluded earlier this year that the nation was not on track to deliver against any of its other key targets and metrics.

Emphasised in the new open letter is the importance of delivering the UK’s commitment to protect and conserve at least 30% of land and water by 2030. This commitment was made through the UN’s biodiversity treaty, which has the support of more than 180 other nations too.

Members of the House of Lords’ Environment and Climate Change Committee recently warned that, due to weak action so far, the UK only has a slim chance of meeting its 2030 biodiversity targets. It implored the Government to use this finding as motivation for unprecedented action rather than as an excuse for delay.

The open letter discusses how, in delivering this target, nature access can be improved in line with Government commitments.

Environmental presenter Chris Packham – one of the 30 signatories – said that nature restoration “will look different around the country”, with “pockets of nature in urban environments” having an important role to play.

Green Party MP Caroline Lucas added: “Political parties have a responsibility to ensure that the restoration of our natural world, alongside fair and equal public access to it, is at the heart of their election manifestoes; and the public and campaigners must hold them accountable for delivering on their environmental promises.

“It is clearer than ever that wildlife loss is accelerating, habitats are under attack, and nature is in rapid decline. But for as long as Ministers turn a blind eye to environmental degradation, it will simply get worse and the public will suffer the consequences too.”

Other signatories include former international environment Minister Zac Goldsmith, and Shadow Climate Change Minister Kerry McCarthy. They are joined by a coalition of Lords, Baronesses, MPs, Councillors, campaigners and NGO bosses in supporting the letter.

Poor optics

Goldsmith resigned as Minister for Overseas Territories, Commonwealth, Energy, Climate and Environment at the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) earlier this year.

He had served In Ministerial positions relating to the environment for four years but said his position was no longer tenable due to Sunak’s “apathy” around environmental topics when he resigned in June.

Goldsmith stated at the time that Sunak had “visibly stepped off the world stage and withdrawn leadership on climate and nature”. He accused the Prime Minister of allowing decision-making to slow and allowing debates around green topics to become “polarising”.

Sunak subsequently rolled back several key policies relating to the decarbonisation of buildings and road transport, in a speech timed to coincide with the UN’s Climate Ambition Summit in New York.

His Government has also sought to weaken water pollution requirements for housing developers and has delayed a mandate for built environment firms to achieve at least 10%  biodiversity net-gain at their sites. This mandate was due to enter force in November and will now begin in January 2024.

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