A blog from Deborah Long, LINK Chief Officer
Today marks the start of the UK’s new relationship with the European Union, and while this personally makes me extremely sad and disappointed, it also marks the start of a different way of doing things. 2020 marks the start of the United Nation’s Decade for Ecological Restoration and in the build up to that, we want Scotland to be on the right trajectory.
2019 was a tumultuous year, with its ups and downs. The challenges we faced included Brexit and the many implications of the changes that is bringing, notwithstanding political confusion and uncertainty at UK, Scotland and European levels. This will be brought into sharp focus from today I’ve no doubt. Here in Scotland, we continued see the unhelpful focus on GDP as a measure of our success as a nation and the State of Nature 2019 report for Scotland, reflected ongoing declines in biodiversity. In contrast, the opportunities we faced included massive public support for action on climate change, ocean plastic and biodiversity loss through the school strikes, extinction rebellion and the Planet Earth effect. This focused government minds with the declaration in Scotland of the climate and nature emergencies. In Europe, with the new administration of Ursula van der Leyen, we saw the opportunities of an EU Green Deal.
As environmental NGOs in Scotland, LINK and its members continued our work to influence government and policy making through consistently high quality and coherent policy proposals and ongoing informative and positive engagement with policy makers. We have persistently presented the argument for a better way of doing things that respects planetary boundaries and puts true sustainability at the centre. For this persistence and the successes that have resulted, our network and members should take both credit and encouragement.
However, there is no room for complacency. We need to step up – not back. We still need to devise and deliver strategies to limit climate change to 1.5°C, halt and reverse biodiversity loss, increase resource efficiency and circular economy and build well being on the top of those.
In a global context, we remain in a highly volatile situation with the European Union still being the best hope for environmental sustainability and leadership to make transformational changes needed. We know we won’t now be part of that but it is important to keep pace and show leadership from within UK, to prevent descent to lowest common denominator. Scotland is looking to provide that leadership although real progress in environmental terms, beyond declarations, is yet to be seen. Across the UK and Europe, LINK and our sister organisations need to be working with EU to prevent UK’s apparent determination to push for a divergent, deregulated model that could pose a threat to future environmental ambition not just in the UK but also in the EU.
In Europe, we see key milestones in the European Green Deal ahead. These include an EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 (March) in the lead-up to the crucial Convention on Biological Diversity meeting in Kunming in the autumn; a new Circular Economy Action Plan (March); a ‘Farm to Fork’ strategy (spring); measures to increase EU climate ambition (starting with a proposal for an EU Climate Law in March); a chemicals strategy for sustainability (summer); and a new legislative proposal to improve access to justice through revising the Aarhus Regulation.
In Scotland, we are arguing to keep pace, and not regress on European progress. Areas of activity will include Scotland’s own Circular Economy Bill, consultation on an environment strategy, updated biodiversity plans to 2030, a revised Climate Change Plan, regional land use planning, an Agriculture Bill and hopefully progress on whatever succeeds land management subsidies. There is a long way to go on all of these if delivery and action is to meet the ambitions of the declared emergencies in April and June last year.
As for LINK, we have Fight for Scotland’s Nature gearing up to continue pushing for non-regression and an independent watchdog as well as legislatively underpinned nature recovery targets in an Environment Bill.Save Scottish Seas continues to work for ocean recovery through robust implementation of the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010, including completing and properly protecting the Marine Protected Area network, and pushing for ecosystem-based fisheries management and marine planning. The newly launched Environmental Rights Centre Scotland will focus on accessing environmental justice and implementing the Aarhus convention. This is underpinned by our new Strategic Plan, which provides LINK with a strong position for moving forward with focus on partnerships. All this is possible thanks to our member reps, the LINK staff and Board, all of whom are extremely hardworking and often overstretched. This is the essence of LINK as a membership organisation. The engagement and commitment of our members is what makes LINK so effective and so much more than just another lobby group.
By working together, LINK as a network will be assessing all possible implications for the environment of the ongoing political shifts, whether that be independence for Scotland, rejoining the EU, remaining in the UK with close or distant alignment to the EU. Whatever the outcomes, the environment needs a strong voice, now more than ever, a voice that calls for real and effective delivery to meet the climate and nature emergencies, cross border co-operation, wherever those borders are, and political commitment to make a difference.
Further reading: Martin Harper: A comment on the UK’s exit from the European Union
Image credit: Sandra Graham.