At the end of 2022 over 190 nations, including the UK, signed the Kunming-Montreal Protocol, committing governments to directly address the growing crisis facing biodiversity. The gathering was widely hailed as a landmark moment for nature.
At the heart of the agreement were four overarching goals focussing on landscape resilience and connectivity, enhancing biodiversity, equitable sharing of resources, and equitable access to financial support to restore natural systems. Specifically, the agreement has committed the signatories to ending the extinction of species, with a target of a ten-fold decrease in the rate of extinction by 2050. The protocol includes 23 targets which, if implemented, should achieve the overarching goals. The targets are admirably bold. Target two, for example, commits governments to protecting and actively restoring 30% of land and marine areas by 2030.
As the UK is one of the most nature-poor countries in Europe, the Protocol should be good news for our four nations. The reality is more complex. The UK government has indicated that by including all National Parks and Areas of Outstanding National Beauty, we are already so close to protecting 30% of our land and sea that the UK needs to take very little additional action. Yet many of the UK’s designated areas, such as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs), are in such poor condition that it will take a generation for them to recover. Other areas, such as our National Parks, are often over-grazed, over-managed and under-resourced. Without change in the attitude towards designated areas, reaching 30% on paper will make little difference to the rate of extinction in the UK.
Worse still, the UK government seems intent on reducing our environmental protections, just when the Kunming-Montreal Protocol suggests we should be tightening them. If the Retained EU Law (REUL) Bill continues its current path through parliament, then there is a real risk of important EU-derived environmental legislation being deleted entirely from the UK statute books, without replacement, by the end of 2023.
The picture is no prettier in the UK in relation to several other Protocol targets. Target seven, for example, commits governments to reducing the impacts of water pollution by 50% by 2030. But in the UK, unabated pollution of rivers and streams from sewage outfalls continues, and monitoring bodies such as the Environment Agency are chronically underfunded.
If global society achieves the goals of the new protocol, it will be a beautiful and life-giving gift to future generations. However, this will require most governments, including our own, to think and act very differently in relation to nature – and fast. This kind of mindset change is likely to require the voting public to push for it loudly and persistently.
Take action: Join the campaign from The Wildlife Trusts urging the government to bin the Retained EU Law bill.
Image: Cairngorms National Park, Aviemore, UK (Jack Skinner)