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Time to redouble our efforts for the nature restoration revolution

Last Sunday we entered the second year of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration.

It also marks the end of my first year working as BirdLife’s Regional Director in Europe and Central Asia and has given me the opportunity to reflect on the progress made in delivering our 10-point plan for a restoration revolution.

First, here’s a reminder of our context.

The nature and climate emergency remains just that – an emergency. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported in April that limiting warming to around 1.5°C (above preindustrial levels and therefore avoiding the worst consequences for people and nature) requires global greenhouse gas emissions to peak before 2025 at the latest, and be reduced by 43% by 2030. 

In March, a separate report highlighted the significance of protecting and restoring nature to help both climate change mitigation and adaptation and called upon “effective and equitable conservation of approximately 30% to 50% of Earth’s land, freshwater and ocean areas, including currently near-natural ecosystems”. 

The imperative to act becomes increasingly clear – especially as large parts of southern and central Europe have had the hottest May on record this year – yet the political response remains inadequate. The global biodiversity talks are painfully slow and the momentum that had been building in Europe (with the EU Green Deal and the 2030 Biodiversity Strategy) appears to have stalled. This is, in part, due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine which has had appalling consequences for the Ukrainian people, has caused enormous environmental damage, threatens food supplies, especially to the Middle East and North Africa, and, as I wrote previously, has dramatically changed the policy landscape across Europe.

With this backdrop, it is easy to despair. But despair will not save the planet. We need to reinvigorate our efforts to encourage all parts of society to act and remain focused on a plan to deliver the restoration revolution. Here are some priorities for the months ahead: 

  • While talks have been delayed and seemingly bogged down, there is still the opportunity this autumn at the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity for the world to agree on a plan to save nature. We need to redouble our efforts to ensure politicians agree on the right targets to be achieved by 2030.
  • These targets can (and must) still be passed into law for example when the European Commission publishes its delayed, but much anticipated, new Nature Restoration Law in mid-June. This is why we launched our #Move4Nature campaign with WWF and EEB to secure the right ambition. We are encouraging people to walk, run, roll, cycle, swim, sail or glide and add their kilometres to say how much they care about nature and want it restored.  I have committed to running at least 5km a day until we get the right law so I hope it arrives soon.
  • As recently reported in Nature, new money is clearly needed to support conservation globally (for example, with others we have called for rich nations to donate at least US$60 billion annually to support conservation in the developing world). Some institutions and philanthropists are moving in the right direction (eg the Asian Development Bank committing to raise £3billion for the East Asian Australasian Flyway, the Bezos Earth Fund committing to spend $10billion in a decade, the EU promising to dedicate 7.5% of the 2021-2027 EU Budget to biodiversity from 2024, and 10% from 2026) but we need others to maintain the momentum and deliver more than six times the level of funding compared to our current levels of investment. The 30th anniversary of the EU Nature Directives and the EU Life programme shows what can be achieved if the laws set the framework and the money starts to flow.
  • The decarbonisation imperative means we need to end our dependence on fossil fuels but also ensure the much-needed renewable energy revolution takes place in harmony with nature. The new REPowerEU plan published to demonstrate how the EU will move beyond its dependency on Russian gas contains includes much we can support but, as my colleague Ariel Brunner says, shoots itself in the foot by introducing a blanket exemption from EIAs and appropriate assessments on #Natura2000 sites. We have work to do to shift this.
  • As we do with the current debate over the future of farming. Every day that goes there seems to be more farming unions that push back on nature restoration and the transition to sustainable farming for the sake of “food security”. We continue to believe that this is a cynical exploitation of the Ukraine crisis. We will fail to restore nature, fail farmers and fail the public unless we must turn away from intensive agriculture, industrial fisheries and aquaculture, and shift towards healthy, socially and environmentally friendly farming practices, such as agroecology, organic farming, and agroforestry, which provide the only path to ensuring long-term food security, food sovereignty, and the overall sustainability of the food systems.  For more information on this subject, do read this excellent nature restoration and food security briefing.
  • We need more businesses to commit to becoming nature-positive organisations. With this in mind, it is heartening to see the European cement industry publish its 2030 biodiversity roadmap. We shall continue to support our partner Heidelberg Cement (who recently published their own new biodiversity policy and with us are advocating for an ambitious EU nature restoration law) while also encouraging others in the extractive sector such as our new partner Sibelco, play their part. We need more companies to follow this lead.
  • We need to think and act at scale. This is why it is fantastic to be able to celebrate news of 8 new projects receiving mega funding from Arcadia as part of the Endangered Landscapes Programme. Many of these involve BirdLife Partners and they are exactly what we need to bring hope and optimism that our continent can lead the world in nature restoration. 
  • We need more of us to step up and play our part.  With a colleague from BirdLife Cyprus, I recently spoke at an alumnus event for the University College London Masters in Conservation, and it was moving and inspiring to see how many people have, since I graduated 27 years ago, have gone on to deliver great things for nature around the world.  Equally, it was great to speak to an employee of Sibelco recently who had lobbied internally to install house martin nest boxes on their Plant to support a population of >90 pairs. It’s a small thing, but it matters. 

Wherever we live, whatever we do, we can and must all contribute to the great nature restoration revolution. As for BirdLife, I have no doubt that our Partners will continue to play their part. My job (with my excellent team) is to help them to have maximum impact for nature. 

This blog is part of a series I am writing. You can read my previous blog here. Do you have any thoughts on what I have written? It would be great to hear your views. Send me a tweet – my handle is @MartinBirdLife.

By Martin Harper, Regional Director of BirdLife Europe & Central Asia

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