’Lost decade for nature’: UK accused of missing majority of UN biodiversity targets

2020-09-14

Conservation charity RSPB has warned that the UK has failed to meet the overwhelming majority of international biodiversity targets agreed on 10 years ago in a fresh analysis published ahead of a major UN report card of countries’ nature protection efforts.

The group warned on Friday that the UK’s “high envionmental ambitions” have not led to “real progress” in halting environmental decline over the past decade, slamming the government’s assessment of its biodivesity efforts – submitted last year – as “overly optimistic”.

While the UK government argues that it has failed to meet 14 of the 20 Aichi Biodiversity Targets drawn up by world leaders at the COP10 summit in Japan a decade ago, the RSPB’s analysis posits that the UK’s performance has been even poorer. The group claims that the country has failed on 17 targets, with progress going backwards in six areas.

The UN’s fifth Global Biodiversity Report, set to be published tomorrow, will contain a report card on progress made by countries against the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, non-binding commitments that range from preventing the extinction of threatened species to halving the rate of forest loss.

With global wildlife populations in freefall, the report is expected to be extremely sobering. It follows the latest edition of WWF’s Living Planet Index last week, which revealed that wildlife populations had fallen 68 per cent since 1970, a decline that the NGO dubbed “catastrophic”.

Beccy Sleight, chief executive at the RSPB, stressed that future nature targets must be made legally binding in order to prevent the ongoing loss of wildlife.

“Next year we have the opportunity to play a leading role in developing a new set of global targets to restore nature,” she said. “But first we need an honest assessment that recognises we need to do much more at home. We have targets enshrined in law to tackle the climate emergency, but none, yet, to reverse the crisis facing nature. We cannot be in this same position in 2030 with our natural world vanishing due to inaction.” 

In order to ensure that “the next decade is not again lost to inaction”, the group has called on the UK government to boost the amount of land and sea being protected and managed for nature while also allocating more funding for nature conservation. Public funding for the environment dropped nearly 30 per cent from £641m in 2012/2013 to £456m in 2017/2018, according to the report.

A spokesperson from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) emphasised that the government had committed to a green recovery from the coronavirus pandemic and that the UK was first major economy to set a legally binding target for net zero emissions

“We are committed to a greener future, which is why we are leading the world by setting ambitious goals for nature and biodiversity in our landmark Environment Bill as well as introducing new ways to reward farmers for protecting the environment and investing £640m in the Nature for Climate Fund,” they said.

The latest news follows the broadcast last night of the latest Sir David Attenborough documentary, titled Extinction: The Facts.

Responding to the broadcast, Environmental Audit Committee Chairman, Philip Dunne, said MPs would launch an inquiry this autumn on the UK’s failure to deliver on its biodiversity targets.

“From white rhinos to numerous pollinating insects, we are losing species far too quickly and must slam the brakes before even more are lost forever,” he said. “Around the world, it has been predicted that we are at risk of losing one million of the world’s eight million species, and we must not let this happen. Species up and down the food chain are crucial for biodiversity; crucial for the food we eat and crucial for the oxygen we breathe.

“Sir David’s documentary on extinction brings into sharp focus why we must act now before it is too late. Leadership must come from above, and it is deeply concerning that reports suggest the UK could miss 17 of its 20 UN biodiversity targets.”

businessgreen.com, 14 September 2020
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