Boris Johnson commits government to protecting 30% of UK's land

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has confirmed that the UK will sign an international commitment binding nations to protect 30% of their land-based habitats - a move designed to halt biodiversity loss.

More than four in ten species in the UK have experienced population decline since 1970

More than four in ten species in the UK have experienced population decline since 1970

 

In a virtual ceremony later today (28 September), Johnson will sign the UN’s Leaders Pledge for Nature – a precursor to the organisation’s ‘Paris-Agreement-style’ deal designed to avert Earth’s sixth mass extinction.

In order to meet the Pledge’s headline commitment, a further 4% of land in the UK must be protected. Some 26% of land in England is already covered by National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and other protected statuses.

The Government has not yet published information on how much additional protection will be needed to meet the target across Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, as Defra only covers England. To join up approaches across the nations, Defra will work with devolved administrations to develop and implement plans.

Aside from protecting land, the Pledge binds signatory nations to undertake ten specific actions, including improving the sustainability of their food systems and extractive sectors; ending environmental crimes; factoring biodiversity risk into all international agreements and engaging “the whole of society” with biodiversity and climate discussions.

These actions are underpinned by broader requirements for nations to increase financing for nature; to integrate decisions around public health and environmental sustainability and to prioritise a green recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.

On the latter, Johnson has made repeated verbal commitments to a green recovery and experts believe that the stimulus outlined by the UK to date will have, on balance, a net-positive impact on the environment. Nonetheless, multi-million-pound bailouts have been provided to high emitters without environmental conditions attached. The general consensus is that the UK must do more in its position as COP26 co-host.

As he signs the Pledge, Johnson is expected to speak of the importance of “turning words into action and using them to build momentum” in light of the fact that global rates of extinction are 100 times higher than they would be naturally, due to human activity.

“We cannot afford dither and delay because biodiversity loss is happening today and it is happening at a frightening rate,” Johnson will say. “Left unchecked, the consequences will be catastrophic for us all.”

Johnson's comments come as Defra is developing legally binding targets for biodiversity, air quality and water quality. The targets will be embedded in the Environment Bill and come into effect in 2022. 

Also at the UN's virtual event, the European Commission’s Vice-President Frans Timmermans will encourage member states to sign the Pledge in the coming weeks and months.

30 by 30

The announcement from Johnson comes on the same day that The Wildlife Trusts launched a public appeal to raise £30m to contribute to the protection of 30% of land and sea by 2030.

Called 30 by 30, the campaign is welcoming both individual contributions to the Trusts’ activities and partnerships with businesses. The federation, which represents 46 grassroots charities, already works with the likes of Siemens, Severn Trent Water, Aggregate Industries and Jordans Cereals.  

Funding raised through the campaign will support projects such as peatland, wetland and fenland restoration; the conversion of degraded agricultural land into wild areas and beaver reintroduction. The Wildlife Trust’s chief executive Craig Bennett said the organization will also “buy land to expand and join-up” nature reserves and provide education to landowners to help them boost biodiversity.

“The next ten years must be a time of renewal, of rewilding our lives, of green recovery,” Bennett, formerly chief of Friends of the Earth, said. “We all need nature more than ever and when we succeed in reaching 30 by 30 we’ll have wilder landscapes that store carbon and provide on-your-doorstep nature for people too.”

The Wildlife Trusts notably believes that more must be done to protect nature than the UK Government has stated. Data collected by the organisation earlier this year revealed that 68% of the Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) in Wales and 60% in England are significantly degraded. The proportions for Northern Ireland and Scotland stand at 39% and 35% respectively.

It is also calling on the UK Government to use its upcoming review of planning policy to create protected areas of “wild belt” – land specifically designated for restoration.

Sarah George



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