The 2030 Challenge: stop the rot, protect the best and restore the rest
The UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration starts on World Environment Day on 5 June. ‘About time too’ many will cry, because nature is in crisis.
Recent reports from both within and outside the European Union, have shown that nature continues to decline at an alarming rate across our continent. For example, globally, one in eight bird species are at risk of extinction; and within the European Union, 42% of species continue to decline, 11% are at risk of extinction, and just 15% of habitats are in favourable condition. This erosion of our natural environment is driven by unsustainable land use (such as agriculture and forestry), overexploitation of species (from fishing to hunting) and the introduction of non-native species (which is particularly damaging in wetlands or on islands where native animals are vulnerable to non-native introduced predators such as rats and mice).The climate crisis is compounding these threats, and it is set to get a lot worse.
Nature’s decline is also bad news for our own species because it means that all those services that nature gives us for free – such as clean water, flood protection, carbon storage and of course inspiration – are being degraded, thereby undermining our prosperity and security.
We are currently dealing with the economic consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic, which is likely to have been caused by our failure to treat nature with respect. Yet we are already facing a nature and climate emergency and the window of opportunity to prevent catastrophic consequences is rapidly closing. Scientists believe that this is the crucial decade which means we are the generation that must act.
That’s why the UN Decade has to be more than just a good catchphrase. It must be the catalyst for transformational change of our economy, of our food and energy systems, of ourselves. In short, we have to:
- stop the rot by reducing the growing pressures on nature driven by a model of economic growth that is dependent on exploitation of the natural environment
- protect the best by ensuring that at least 30% of land and sea are well protected and managed for nature by the end of the decade
- restore the rest by taking action to put back what we have lost, which means a massive drive in habitat restoration.
This week, I start as the Regional Director for BirdLife Europe and Central Asia. I join a small but determined team that supports partners in 46 countries (from Iceland to Kazakhstan, including all EU countries) supported by 2 million citizens who play their part in tackling the emergency. We act by using evidence about the state of nature to drive practical conservation action, work together to influence change in public policy and encourage more people to act for nature.
An immediate opportunity is the upcoming EU restoration law that the European Commission is expected to propose by end of the year. BirdLife is convinced that restoring 15% of EU land and sea, both inside and outside existing protected areas, is both vital and feasible. It is still a major missing plank of the European Green Deal.
Over the past month, in support of our #RestoreNature campaign, we have been profiling a huge range of projects that our partners have led to restore nature – from the islands of Greece to the grasslands of Belgium and from the English coast to the Georgian steppes. Conservation is not just about documenting decline; it is about making things better. Despite many conservation endeavours having been thwarted by the pandemic over the past year, the public support for nature has grown and we are determined to deliver a step change of impact over the coming decade.
Yet, action by NGOs will never be enough. Which is why, in this decade, we need governments to act in emergency mode. And we need businesses to recognise that they need to change.
Specifically, we need governments to:
- agree ambitious global deals for nature and climate change at the two UN summits scheduled at the end of 2021
- put targets for nature’s recovery into domestic law as is currently being proposed by the European Union and UK Government
- end perverse subsidies that harm nature, for example by overhauling agriculture policy (such as the CAP) and reforming agriculture incentives to reward wildlife-friendly farming and ensuring all overseas development assistance support rather than undermine environmental protection objectives. Similar approaches are needed to end support for fossil fuels, unsustainable fishing or bioenergy.
- influence private sector investment to help rather than hinder efforts to tackle the nature and climate emergency, for example by being transparent to investors and consumers about the impact of different commercial activities. The EU’s new green finance rules (the so-called “taxonomy”) fail because they assume that all forestry and bioenergy investments are good for nature despite evidence to the contrary.
- grow public sector finance for nature to drive more restoration efforts. Currently the EU Life fund is designed to grow to 60% by 2026and the UK Government has established a £650 million nature and climate fund; yet both fall a long way short of the investment estimated to be needed to meet international commitments. To put this in perspective, EU Life constitutes less than 1% of the total EU Budget.
- develop an “industrial” strategy for nature conservation by supporting the skills and capacity needed by institutions and civil society organisations to grow their impact. If this was any other sector, governments would want to create a jobs and training programme to allow transformation of our sector to match the new ambition. BirdLife and others will do what we can, but it is unlikely that our efforts will be sufficient.
- Signal to businesses that they need to change, their business model in 2030 must be very different to what it is today. Early movers to more sustainable practices, such as regenerative agriculture or renewable energy in harmony with nature, should secure market advantage because their approach must become the norm by 2030. The sooner that businesses acknowledge they need to change, the better for all of us.
In 2030, we want and need Europe and Central Asia to be leading the world in restoring nature. We have the knowledge, experience, and responsibility to act.
But for this to happen, governments, businesses and, of course, civil society need to step up. BirdLife is up for it, are you?