COP15: UK Government failing to turn global promises into domestic action for nature

The UN’s COP15 biodiversity summit is now over, with a global biodiversity framework now agreed. It’s being called “a first step in resetting our relationship with the natural world” and includes commitments to restore on 30% of degraded ecosystems on land and sea by 2030; 30% of terrestrial and marine areas conserved and managed by 2030; and halting and reversing nature’s destruction by 2030. 

A much less discussed COP than Glasgow’s COP26 conference last year, the global ambition for nature is now set. Now it’s time for countries to deliver on the promises they’ve made on the international stage. We have no time to lose if we are to meet these targets in eight years’ time. 

Across the Scotland and the rest of the UK, action means ensuring that nature loss is both halted and reversed. To protect and restore our precious species, habitats, and ecosystems. And to ensure that our best ally in the fight against climate change – nature itself – can flourish.

The problem? Here in the UK, we have one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world. The UK Government has made no progress on its own commitment to restore 30% of land for nature by 2030. And, according to environmental groups, its nature restoration ambition will mean there’s less wildlife in the decades ahead than there is today.

The stark contrast between the Scottish Government’s leadership on tackling nature loss – and UK Government’s complete failure of leadership is plain to see. Scotland was one of the first countries in the world to declare a joint biodiversity and climate emergency. And now the Scottish Government is taking action to tackle the nature emergency with the powers at its disposal.

Meanwhile, at Westminster, the UK Government’s (Environment Act) targets, won’t deliver on the pledges made at COP15. Put simply, they are too weak. There’s no overall target to improve water quality. No target to improve the condition of protected nature areas. And they won’t help us to protect 30% of land and sea for nature by 2030.

The UK Government must therefore urgently publish a clear pathway to meet its commitments. It must also scrap the Retained EU Law Bill, which seeks to undemocratically wipe away the last vestiges of EU environmental protections in UK law. And, most importantly, it must support the Climate & Ecology Bill.

By enacting the Climate & Ecology Bill, we would have a science-led plan to help us solve the climate-nature crisis. A plan that will reduce the UK’s full greenhouse gas emissions in line with the best chance of limiting global heating to 1.5C. A plan that will mean we have reversed nature’s destruction by the end of this decade. A plan that commands the support for the public, via a temporary citizens’ assembly to help decide the fairest way forward.

The Bill is already backed by hundreds of scientists, NGOs, community groups and businesses. Zero Hour, the campaign for the Climate & Ecology Bill, is now calling on all politicians to get behind this serious environmental plan. A plan that treats the crisis for what it is – an environmental emergency.

As Rishi Sunak said at COP27, “there’s no solution to climate change without protecting and restoring nature”. So I ask my colleagues, across the political spectrum, to support the Climate & Ecology Bill and work together to enact this crucial law.

And as the snow settles after COP15, it’s essential to lock the pledges the UK Government is making into law. We have a vanishingly small window to act, but there’s still time to do so.