Not just up to COP15: we all have a role in reversing the loss of nature
Heather Elgar, Lead Policy Advocate – Corporate Policy, the Woodland Trust, explains how we can all play our part.
While half the world’s population is focused on the World Cup, crucial negotiations are underway in Montreal to agree a global deal for nature. The lesser-known COP15 is taking place until 17 December. It is the meeting of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), and will establish the Post-2020 Biodiversity Framework.
Everything is at stake – our food, health, economy and society – all depend on a healthy natural environment, yet, globally, ecosystems are at risk of collapse, with a devastating 1 million species at risk of extinction. Half of global GDP is already considered at risk from degrading nature. This is material in the UK too, as one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world, with only 7% of our woods in good ecological condition.
Nature is complex and inherently local – we can’t put nature on a balance sheet in the same way we can with carbon. This is why the mitigation hierarchy, which demands that we first protect nature, and the precautionary principle are crucial to avoid tipping points that might put an already precarious ecosystem at risk of collapse. The quality of habitat is crucial – although woodland cover in the UK is increasing (albeit not enough to meet the UK’s Net Zero ambitions), woodland wildlife is decreasing.
We failed to meet every one of the Aichi Targets previously set under the CBD, indicating we need a new approach. The urgency and interconnectedness of the global crises we face mean that we can’t afford to take siloed or incremental approaches: we won’t meet net-zero or the Sustainable Development Goals without nature. Reversing nature loss demands action at every level, and across every part of society.
COP15 needs to set an ambitious global framework to halt and reverse the loss of biodiversity by 2030 (see our asks at https://urgentconversation.org/).
Governments must set the enabling policy environment domestically – with clear red lines against destroying existing important nature, and incentives for pro-nature activity, while ensuring ecological impacts aren’t simply displaced overseas – to raise and level the playing field for business.
‘Leadership starts at home’
The UK Government has said it will champion nature at COP15, but leadership starts at home. We urgently need ambitious legally-binding targets for nature in the UK, including for tree canopy cover and quality. UK government needs to ensure robust environmental regulations – and sufficient funding for their enforcement – that are in line with its own ambitions for a nature-positive UK economy by 2030 and net-zero by 2050.
The Retained EU Law Bill currently going through Parliament threatens hundreds of existing EU-derived laws which represent the backbone of environmental protections in the UK. The UK Government must also ensure that its landmark Environmental Land Management Scheme truly shifts the dial and helps secure a resilient, future-proofed landscape for all by properly rewarding farmers with public money for public goods, like increasing biodiversity.
Businesses can act now by taking a hard look at their operations and wider influence – through their supply chains and how their products are ultimately used – to ensure they’re always protecting existing valuable nature, like global rainforests and ancient woods in the UK, and otherwise ensuring their actions respect and enhance natural systems. Nature-positive influence should also extend to lobbying: a strong business voice on the fundamental importance of nature for a healthy economy and society is powerful for policy-making.
Embedding nature in business decisions is sound risk management by building resilience and adapting to an increasingly uncertain world, but also gets to the heart of purpose: what role does a business want to play in building a liveable future?
Nature must not be treated like a political football. While we need a strong outcome at COP15, it is up to all of us – and in all our interests – to do what’s in our gift as individuals, organisations, and through cross-sectoral collaboration, to realise a liveable, nature-rich future where we can all thrive.
Heather Elgar, Lead Policy Advocate for Corporate Policy, the Woodland Trust
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