05 - 07 March 2024 | ExCeL, London

05 - 07 March 2024 | ExCeL, London

Opinion Piece

Taking a stand for nature’s future: The need for transformative action to halt environmental decline

Opinion piece by Richard Benwell, Chief Executive at Wildlife and Countryside Link

Walk round the Futurebuild hall, and it can be like stepping into a virtual reality. The conference is a collective exercise of imagination for a better future: sustainable materials, responsible construction, ethical supply chains, integrated planning, and greener communities.

But it also invites us to imagine the opposite. Can you imagine a future without nature? The empty skies, grey facades, and polluted rivers that mark the worst that unsustainable development can bring. It scarcely bears thinking about.

Sadly, despite some valiant leaders in green thinking, the UK continues its march toward the second scenario. Biodiversity is in chronic decline, with the threat of extinctions and nature-deprived communities showing no sign of receding. We’re campaigning for change.

More than anything else, Government policy can help change our course, and chart a better path.  Unfortunately, politicians continue to treat nature as a “nice to have”, consistently privileging short-term gains over environmental responsibility. Grand goals have been set for restoring our natural world, but time after time they’ve been missed.

The result of that inaction? An enormous challenge. 15% of species are at risk of extinction in the UK, 0% of rivers are in good health and just 37% of sites of special scientific interest are in good condition. Our built environment is suffering as well. As the effects become more pronounced and nature disappears from our urban centres, communities across the country increasingly come under threat. Extreme weather, flooding, over heating and air pollution, exacerbated by nature loss and nature negative policies all contribute to making our towns, villages and cities less livable.

And time is not on our side. In 2021 the UK government committed to protecting 30% land and sea for nature by 2030 and take action to halt nature’s decline. With just over six years left until that self-imposed deadline, only 3% of the and 8% of the sea are properly managed for nature. Despite the next election being just over a year away, not a single political party has set out a credible plan to halt nature’s decline, opting instead to present a pale green sheen in public, whilst neglecting the economy-wide reforms that are really needed.

In 2020/2021, public sector funding for biodiversity amounted to just 0.023% of UK GDP. Instead of bringing in stronger legal protections for nature, the Government is giving itself new powers to weaken environmental law, and politicians of all stripes have boasted about their ability to “bulldoze” regulations that protect our environment.  In recent weeks, we have seen that go further with some in Government looking for a ‘quick win’ by actively pushing harmful environmental policies which we know the majority of the public do not want.

That’s why ahead of the election, we are calling on politicians to take a stand for nature and finally match ambition and action. The Nature 2030 campaign brings together 90 charities to propose five major public policy changes that would put nature on a path to recovery by 2030.

We’re demanding political parties to commit to:

  1. Double the nature-friendly farming budget to fund a more ambitious transition to wildlife-friendly farming and large-scale nature restoration.
  2. A Nature Recovery Obligation to make big businesses plan for and fund nature’s recovery.
  3. A rapid delivery plan to protect and manage 30% of the land and sea for nature.
  4. A National Nature Service, delivering wide scale habitat restoration and creating thousands of green jobs.
  5. A legal right to a healthy environment, giving everyone the right to access clean water, clean air and nature.

As the Dasgupta Review showed, the benefits for creating a resilient economy and a healthy society would outweigh the costs many times over. Yes, our proposals would set strict new laws for businesses to clean up their act and fund nature recovery. But surely that’s better than the current situation, where it’s wider society that pays to clean up the harm caused by water companies, damaging development, or unsustainable and polluting products? Setting a levy based on companies’ impact on nature will ensure that the greenest businesses grow and thrive and the worst polluters change their ways because it doesn’t pay to do otherwise. 

And yes, we’re imagining changes that would set new social expectations about the way we interact with nature. There’s a widening gap between demand for green jobs, and the capacity of the labour market to satisfy that demand. There’s a widening injustice, as those people who live in the leafiest and most affluent areas enjoy longer, healthier lives compared with marginalised communities who end up living in nature-starved, polluted places. Our National Nature Service green training scheme, and a new legal right to a healthy environment would build on wonderful ideas like forest schools to help ensure that the benefits of work and leisure and living in nature are truly everyone’s to enjoy. 

We can’t be satisfied with soundbites at the next election. We need clear and credible environmental policy, not flimsy promises to be ‘nice to nature’. If you agree, please support the Nature 2030 campaign and demand action. Let’s make sure that when the politicians show up on the doorstep, it’s clear who’s really green—and who’s just keen to be seen to be green. 


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