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A nature positive economy needs to be circular

January 11th, 2023 by

In recent months the term ‘nature positive economy’ is being used more and more in recognition that our economy has a huge role to play in achieving the goal to be nature positive by 2030.  To strive for a nature positive economy is included in Scotland’s National strategy for economic transformation (2022).

Little has been written about what this actually means in terms of modifying the way our economy operates, although the Dasgupta Review provides a useful start by highlighting a number of areas where change is needed.

A recent event hosted by   entitled ‘Making the economy work for nature’, provided a number of observations on priorities and perspectives. 

Opening remarks from Professor Yadvinder Malhi, president of the British Ecological Society, stressed that we need to think about how to reconcile our economy with living on a finite planet and that a circular economy offers a way forward by drawing less resources into the economy and pumping less waste into the environment.  This is supported by the recent report Tackling root causes, which reveals that circular solutions have significant potential to halt biodiversity loss.

Speakers at the event largely focussed on food and farming and care for our soils – the biological side of the well known circular economy butterfly diagram.  It was noted that the largely linear economy has led to a broken carbon cycle and restoring that carbon cycle to a more circular one would be good for climate and biodiversity.  It was pointed out that far more attention needs to be paid to the status of soils.  As a key element of natural capital, a natural asset fundamental to our economy and wellbeing, we need to understand the health and status of soil.  Currently we do not monitor our soils in the same way as we monitor air and water.

In relation to food production, work by the Ellen McArthur Foundation which has shown huge opportunities to redesign food production to regenerate nature with a more circular economy was presented.  The principles of circular economy and food design can be brought together such that food is good for nature and climate by focussing on lower impact ingredients (such as pea flour instead of wheat flour, or syrup from sucrose extracted from crop residue); use of wider varieties to build resilience; and regenerative systems.  Modelling shows economic and environmental benefits.

The potential for farms in Scotland to diversify and make use of by-products was highlighted as was the potential for regenerative practices to deliver yields comparable to conventional farming. 

Despite these opportunities, real barriers in Scotland were pointed out.  For example, the vast majority of livestock are farmed on the west whereas crops are gown in the east which makes closing the nitrogen cycle difficult.  What’s more, much of the food we produce is for export, which impacts on and hinders efforts to become circular.

Looking more broadly at our economy and decision making, hidden assumptions embedded into our economic system and thinking which have become barriers to change were highlighted.  First, the assumptions that the economy and nature are separate and that nature will ‘replenish itself’.  Second, the way in which appraisals of potential projects or policies are carried out, including: a baseline scenario of ‘business as usual’ as an option (when carrying on as we are is not an option); omitting to consider the distribution of costs and benefits; and discounting  (the process of converting a value received in the future to an equivalent present day value) and the assumption that future generations will be better equipped to deal with problems.

Panellists were asked to provide thoughts on how we change the system.  Change in the way we incentivise agriculture was highlighted as key, as was the promotion of good practice.  Working with big businesses, some of whom are taking strides to put nature at the heart of what they do, and developing partnerships was also noted.  There was a call for politicians to be bolder and not to rely on markets to solve the problem. 

This is a useful reminder – the economic (as well as other) opportunities associated with the circular economy are often highlighted; but this should not be an excuse for lack of political leadership.  Without significant changes to accounting and decision making rules/ processes, the market won’t address the nature crises.

LINK has been working on circular economy for several years and, amongst other things, has been highlighting to government that soils, the cornerstone of a circular and regenerative economy, need more attention.  In the next 6 months the Scottish Government will be bringing forward its Circular Economy Bill – this is an opportunity to make sure the legislation is in place to steer our economy to one that is more circular, with reduced footprints and working for nature.  LINK’s Farm for Scotland’s Future campaign is pressing for reform to support for farmers such that farming works for nature, climate and people.

This blog was written by Phoebe Cochrane, LINK’s Sustainable Economy Policy Officer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2023 must be the year where we turn a corner for nature

January 6th, 2023 by

The final weeks of 2022 saw a historic, if much delayed, global agreement for biodiversity reached at COP15 in Montreal, with a central pledge to protect 30% of the planet by the end of the decade.

If we needed a reminder of the scale of the challenge, the record-breaking warm weather across Europe in the first days of January should have been it.

The planet is deep into an ecological emergency and we are long past the time when bold promises for action can be delayed decades into the future.

A 2030 target for nature protection should, hopefully, help shake some complacency from those policymakers across the planet who perennially treat the environment as a problem to deal with tomorrow.

Scotland had adopted the ‘30 by 30’ commitment ahead of COP15 and the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy – published at the Montreal summit – sets the high-level aspirations for our approach to nature between now and 2045, including an ambition to be “nature positive” by 2030.

These goals are welcome, but meeting them will not be without challenges – not least, time.

2030 is not far off. We are rapidly approaching the mid-way point of the decade, and meaningful change will depend on the decisions being made today.

Crucially, the detail of how the Scottish Government intends to meet those ambitions will be set out in five year delivery plans, the first of which will be consulted on soon.

LINK recently commissioned opinion polling to measure public attitudes towards nature and key policy areas. The results should give Ministers confidence that the public will support ambitious action.

More than 80% say that they are worried about the impact of climate change and human activity on nature, and almost unanimously (96%) Scots say our natural environment is important to the country as a whole. Overwhelming majorities support pro-environmental policies such as ‘30 by 30’, prioritising native woodlands, and making sure that farm funding delivers for the planet.

The public know we’re in a crisis – and they want the government to act. 2023 should be the year where we begin to turn the corner for nature.

Dan Paris, Advocacy Manager at LINK

Image: Simon Jones

 

This blog is part of the LINK Thinks COP15 series. Click here to read the series of blogs by LINK staff, members and Honorary Fellows who will be highlighting the importance of targeted action in protecting and restoring our precious nature over the course of the conference.

What does the ocean need from COP15?

December 15th, 2022 by

The Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP15) is all about nature and how we must all take progressive actions to reverse the global loss of biodiversity. COP15 has been somewhat overshadowed by the higher-profile Climate COP – COP27 – which recently took place in Egypt, but due to the climate emergency being inextricably linked to the nature crisis, is equally important. Four years in the making, delayed by the Covid 19 pandemic, COP 15 is a once-in-a-decade chance to turn the tide for nature. For our ocean, this has never been more needed.

At the United Nations Ocean Conference in June 2022, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres declared that we are facing an “ocean emergency”, an inevitable result of the intertwined climate and nature crises given that the ocean has already absorbed so much excess carbon dioxide and heat arising from our burning of fossil fuels. In Scotland, breeding seabird numbers had declined by almost 50% since the 1980s[1], even before the devastating 2022 outbreak of Avian Influenza (‘bird flu’). Scotland’s Marine Assessment 2020[2] also paints a stark picture of poor seabed health, with living seabed habitats particularly diminished and vulnerable,and iconic species such as Atlantic salmon in decline. It emphasises bottom-contacting and pelagic fishing as the most “geographically widespread, direct pressures” and climate change as the “most critical factor” affecting Scotland’s marine environment.

At COP 15, world leaders will finally agree on new, binding targets for the protection and recovery of biodiversity under a post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF). The draft GBF is currently proposing a target that would bind signatory countries to at least 30% of their land and sea being covered by systems of protected areas. It sets the global minimum standard for protection of ecosystems. Importantly, the Framework identifies the main drivers of biodiversity loss that must be addressed, with global food production the top concern. For our seas in Scotland, this means industrial pressures such as bottom-contact mobile fishing gear and aquaculture need to be transformed to support the recovery, rather than drive the decline, of nature.

Networks of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are one of the key conservation tools in a country’s toolbox to protect and recover nature. They are areas of sea with greater levels of protection than surrounding areas, often identified for particular species, habitats or ecosystems of conservation importance where activities that pose the greatest risk to these features are restricted. This latter point is key, as an MPA is only as good as the management measures put in place within it. Currently, there are 232 MPAs in Scotland’s seas designated for nature conservation, but only a small percentage of these have legally binding restrictions on bottom-contact fishing activities, and many other marine industries continue to operate within the sites. These measures will currently, at best, protect small areas of marine biodiversity that are left but are unlikely to enable the large-scale ecosystem recovery that is needed, and therefore do not yet fulfil the commitment to truly protect at least 30% of our seas.

In the Bute House Agreement – the Scottish Government and Scottish Green Party’s co-operation agreement and shared policy programme – there is a commitment to complete the fisheries management measures for the remainder of the existing MPA network by 2024. Though delayed, this is welcome, and in our view must deliver a “whole-site approach” to protecting the existing MPAs, where bottom-contact fishing gear is excluded from sites designated to protect seabed habitats.

The agreement also includes an ambitious new commitment to designate at least 10% of Scotland’s seas as Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs) by 2026. These HPMAs are MPAs under even stricter protection, where all damaging and extractive activities will be prohibited[3]. In conjunction with bolstering the protection of the existing MPA network, if implemented effectively, HPMAs could help turn the tide on marine biodiversity loss, providing core reserves where habitats and species can regenerate to a more natural state.

Why do we need HPMAs in addition to the existing MPAs in Scottish seas? Imagine HPMAs as a fully protected core of the MPA network, providing sanctuaries for marine life from all extractive or damaging activity. These new areas can be targeted to degraded or altered areas where ecosystem recovery is most needed, complimenting the wider MPA network. Sites in the existing network were identified to protect, and in some places recover, the best of the biodiversity remaining after centuries of human impact and decline, and include more targeted protections for specific species and habitats but still allow some types of fishing, aquaculture and other activities such as cable-laying and wind-farms.

In combination, an ecologically coherent network of HPMAs and MPAs can help support the recovery of nature that has declined, the protection of nature that remains in good condition and ensure that our seas continue to provide benefits to society (ecosystem services) such as food, energy and recreation. .

It is important to emphasise that people will be able to access HPMAs for recreation and enjoyment. Non-extractive, non-damaging activities will be possible at levels clearly defined to ensure they do not impact the site. As stated in the Benyon Review, HPMAs can provide multiple social and economic benefits such as marine tourism and recreational activities, and opportunities for scientific research and education. They can have a positive impact on human health, and enhance the aesthetic, cultural and religious significance of the area.

With only eight years left to turn around the decline of nature on land and at sea, COP15 has to deliver bold global commitments for ocean recovery. In Scotland, it is vital that the existing MPA network is swiftly protected from industrial pressures such as bottom-contact fishing gear, and thereafter that at least 10% of our large patch of the northeast Atlantic is protected from all forms of damaging activity and all types of fishing within new HPMAs.

 

Esther Brooker and Fanny Royanez, Marine Policy and Engagement Officers at LINK

 

This blog is part of the LINK Thinks COP15 series. Click here to read the series of blogs by LINK staff, members and Honorary Fellows who will be highlighting the importance of targeted action in protecting and restoring our precious nature over the course of the conference.

 

[1] https://www.nature.scot/seabird-numbers-decline-almost-50

[2] https://marine.gov.scot/sma/

[3] Equivalent to International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) protected area category 1A: ‘Strict nature reserve: Strictly protected for biodiversity and also possibly geological/ geomorphological features, where human visitation, use and impacts are controlled and limited to ensure protection of the conservation values’

 

Image: Calum McLennan

The Importance of Freshwater Ecosystems

December 13th, 2022 by

The new Scottish Biodiversity Strategy offers a significant opportunity to restore Scotland’s ecosystems and reverse species declines. Our natural environment is in crisis, and we urgently need an ambitious new strategy with clear targets. Freshwater ecosystems are essential for biodiversity, providing habitat for a wide array of aquatic species while also helping to reduce the impacts of major threats including climate change, flooding, chemical pollution, and noise pollution. Unfortunately, the number of good quality freshwater habitats in the UK are dwindling, with many ponds being filled in to make room for development, being polluted by chemical run-off, or simply being lost due to poor management.

National wildlife charity Froglife has been tackling this issue through an innovative project, Fife Living Waters, funded by the Scottish Power Foundation. This one-year project has been focused on restoring freshwater ecosystems in Cowdenbeath (Fife, Scotland) through creating and restoring many ponds and engaging with local communities. Fife Living Waters has been working across two key sites, Cowdenbeath Wetland and Swans Pond, delivering ambitious targets for freshwater habitat creation. We have also involved the local community through a variety of engaging and educational activities including volunteer sessions to create new ponds and other habitats, delivering educational school sessions, running pop-up events and much more. The project has engaged with a total of 2,548 people from the local community who will benefit from the fantastic new habitats created in the area, and who now have the knowledge and skills to continue improving their local green spaces.

Cowdenbeath Wetland, despite its name, was no longer functioning as a wetland due to late succession. The few remaining ponds on site were heavily vegetated and unable to hold water. To restore this site to wetland status, we created 83 new ponds, and restored 10 existing ponds at the site. One of the existing ponds was home to Common Frogs, Common Toads and Palmate Newts, with evidence of Common Toads using the pond to breed. Unfortunately, the site was heavily vegetated and there was little open water, making it very limited in its capacity to accommodate breeding amphibians and other wildlife. We removed the excess vegetation, creating open water for amphibians to breed successfully. This is particularly important for newts, as the males require open water to perform courtship displays to attract a mate in the breeding season.

Our second site, Swans Pond, consisted of one very large open body of water which lacked biodiversity. The pond was also well-used by a variety of waterfowl, which typically degrades the water quality, making it unsuitable for amphibians. We have created 32 new ponds on this site to provide more suitable breeding habitat for existing amphibian populations, and to support increased biodiversity at the site, and we intend to make a few more ponds here before the project ends in January. Several of these ponds were hand dug by our wonderful, dedicated volunteers from the local community who will be able to enjoy the benefits of these ponds in the future.

Many species depend on freshwater habitats, but there is a serious lack of high-quality ponds and wetlands in the UK. Restoring these habitats is straightforward, we need to create lots of new, high-quality ponds. All new ponds are valuable, from small garden ponds up to large-scale wetlands. We need to be creating a variety of freshwater habitats of varying shapes and sizes to deliver the best outcome for biodiversity. While restoring existing ponds is also useful, it is always better to create a new pond instead if this is possible, as this will achieve the greatest impact. Froglife has made this easy to do by providing a free guide, Just Add Water, which takes you through the steps of how to create your own pond! Just follow this link: Just-Add-Water-7th-Edition.pdf (froglife.org)

Freshwater ecosystems greatly enhance and support biodiversity and play a key role in tackling climate change. The Fife Living Waters Project has been restoring freshwater habitats through the creation of 115 new ponds and restoring 10 existing ponds across two sites in Cowdenbeath, Fife. To fully protect these essential ecosystems, and the biodiversity that depend on them, we must continue to deliver more freshwater habitat restoration projects like this one. The new Scottish Biodiversity must acknowledge the value of these ecosystems, putting in place ambitious targets for creating new freshwater habitats on a large scale and implementing long-term management of these habitats.

 

Sheila Gundry, Operations Manager at Froglife

 

This blog is part of the LINK Thinks COP15 series. Click here to read the series of blogs by LINK staff, members and Honorary Fellows who will be highlighting the importance of targeted action in protecting and restoring our precious nature over the course of the conference.

 

Image: Cowdenbeath Wetlands

Bugs Matter – The Importance of Urban and Grassland Ecosystems

December 9th, 2022 by

Through the Natural Environment Bill and Scottish Biodiversity Strategy we need to ensure that Scotland’s species-rich grasslands are valued and restored. Machair, meadows and species-rich pastures must be protected and managed for their biodiversity and multiple ecosystem services.

Last year Buglife found that the abundance of flying insects in the UK had plummeted by nearly 60% over the last 17 years; highlighting a worrying trend and the crucial need for insect-focussed conservation research, nationwide.

The 2021 Bugs Matter findings, which were published in a report released by Kent Wildlife Trust and Buglife (Bugs Matter 2021 Full Technical Report), show that the number of insects sampled on vehicle number plates by citizen scientists across the UK reduced by a staggering 59% between 2004 and 2021. These findings are consistent with research which has widely reported declining trends in insect populations globally.

Insect counts differed across the UK, but there was no positive news for insects in any of our nations. England suffered the greatest decline with 65% fewer insects recorded in 2021 than in 2004.  Wales recorded 55% fewer insects, whilst Scotland saw the smallest decline, still with 28% fewer insects in 2021 when compared to 2004 figures. 

Inspired by the ‘windscreen phenomenon’ (a term given to the general observation that people are seeing fewer insects squashed on the windscreens of their cars today compared to several decades ago), Bugs Matter enlists the help of the public to monitor the health of the UK’s insect populations. 

Insects and other invertebrates are critical to a healthy functioning environment. They pollinate most of the world’s crops, provide natural pest control services, decompose organic matter and recycle nutrients into the soil. Without them, life on earth would collapse.

We need a Scottish Biodiversity Strategy that protects the ecosystems our pollinating insects rely on. These habitats need to be connected and provide a network across which pollinators can move through the landscape. It is essential that we develop a comprehensive grassland database for Scotland to support the development of nature networks. We need to support species-rich grassland restoration, meadow creation and management in agri-environment schemes and support High Nature Value farming.

The Natural Environment Bill needs to legally protect ancient grasslands, hedgerows and field margins. We should encourage intercropping and use this opportunity to legislate to reduce pesticide use and ban certain pesticides eg neonicotinoids which we know are devasting for our wild bees.

As we manage the multiple competing targets within the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy, and make the changes we need to in order to tackle the climate emergency, we need to ensure we plant the right trees in the right place, avoiding planting on unimproved grassland.

Urban areas can also provide essential homes for pollinating insects, our cities and towns can contribute to Scotlands biodiversity and provide refuges in an otherwise impermeable landscape.

We need to use the Natural Environment Bill and Scottish Biodiversity Strategy to protect and maintain open mosaic habitats in urban areas, reduce light pollution which can negatively impact our insect populations, and increase the extent of blue/green infrastructure- green roofs, green bridges, walls, SUDs, rain gardens etc. We should use the Natural Environment Bill to ban or reduce the use of pesticides and herbicides by local authorities.

The Nature Restoration Fund is already helping many local authorities to make positive changes and they are doing a fantastic job. We need to ensure local authorities are supported and have the right resources, skills and capacity to deliver targets within the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy and National Planning Framework 4.

Insects are essential to supporting and maintaining a healthy environment, so when their numbers fall that is an indication that nature is in trouble. Insect numbers can also show where wildlife is recovering, and so can be used to measure how the work supported through the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy is helping nature’s recovery.

 

Natalie Stevenson, Scotland and Northern Ireland Manager at Buglife 

 

Image: Claire Pumfrey

 

This blog is part of the LINK Thinks COP15 series. Click here to read the series of blogs by LINK staff, members and Honorary Fellows who will be highlighting the importance of targeted action in protecting and restoring our precious nature over the course of the conference.

A Future for Mountain Plants

December 8th, 2022 by

It might seem strange for a plant enthusiast to be crossing their fingers and wishing for a thick layer of snow to cover up the vegetation, but that’s what I always find myself doing around this time of year. All season I’ve been taking every chance to enjoy our rare mountain plants – clambering about on steep slopes or hunting in the headwaters of the springs which bubble out of the rocks.

And it’s been a good season! Scotland is home to some fantastic, beautiful, specialist mountain plants – species which are perfectly adapted to brief, cool summers, and then long, snowy winters. Early in the year, when there was still snow on the high tops, purple saxifrage began to brighten up the crags and cliff faces with its clusters of pink-purple flowers. On a day in late March I found a scatter of these plants on a remote crag in Highland Perthshire. The same day, I watched a golden eagle displaying above the snowfields, and listened to a chorus of frogs in their high moorland ponds – all signs that spring was just around the corner.

Summer was a mixture of sweltering hot days, when I was cooling off on the summit plateaus amongst the trailing azalea and moss campion, and days of driving rain which I spent tramping across soggy hillsides looking for alpine meadow-rue, dwarf cornel, and hairy stonecrop, which stood out like a garish beacon on an otherwise dreary patch of moorland.

Now the plants have all settled down for a long winter sleep, and I’m waiting for snow. Why? Because many of our mountain plants require a thick blanket of snow to keep them insulated from cold winds and frosts. The harsh, snowy conditions also prevent other, commoner plants from moving up onto the mountain tops and out-competing the specialist species.

In a rapidly and chaotically warming world, our mountain plants face an uncertain future. New research by the University of Stirling published this year demonstrated how climate change is causing severe decline in mountain specialists, with one, snow pearlwort, being newly classified as Endangered as a result of this study. And Scottish Environment LINK’s Scotland’s Nature on Red Alert report showed that up to 93% of studied locations could become unsuitable for mountain plant species as average temperatures increase.

So, I might not get my snow. But I’m not losing hope for our mountains. This is because there are things we can do to make our mountains more resilient to a climate which is heating fast. We can reduce grazing pressure, to give mountain plants room to move in response to changing temperatures – too often, our rarest species cling to inaccessible crags, existing as isolated fragments instead of being part of a rich, vibrant, flourishing – and resilient – ecosystem.

We can restore our high-altitude  mountain woodlands – a habitat so comprehensively destroyed by the activity of humans that it has virtually slipped from our collective cultural memory. Mountain woodlands offer protection from extreme events, provide habitat for rare plants, and slow down the rate of flooding and soil erosion – as demonstrated by this research by Sarah Watts and Alistair Jump. It’s time to recreate this lost habitat with a renewed urgency.

Our battered old mountains have weathered some storms in their time, and there’s a chance that they’ll weather this one. But only if we collectively decide to help them do so – and take action now, before it’s too late. Then we can all look forward to another season of dazzling technicolour plants fizzing and popping across the rolling mountains and craggy peaks.

To meet the commitments set out in the Scottish Government’s statement of intent on biodiversity, Scotland’s upcoming Natural Environment Bill in 2023 must contain ambitious nature recovery targets. The new Scottish Biodiversity Strategy (SBS) needs to set out how those targets will be met and must prioritise a programme of species recovery. These actions will help give our mountain plants a future.

 

Alistair Whyte, Head of Plantlife Scotland

 

This blog is part of the LINK Thinks COP15 series. Click here to read the series of blogs by LINK staff, members and Honorary Fellows who will be highlighting the importance of targeted action in protecting and restoring our precious nature over the course of the conference.

COP15: An opportunity for Scotland to lead the way on nature’s recovery

December 7th, 2022 by

The COP15 biodiversity summit will take place in Montreal, Canada 7 – 19 December. The Montreal conference is the latest in a series of international UN biodiversity summits, equivalent to the climate COPs, aimed at conserving and ensuring the sustainable use of global biodiversity.

 

What is the Convention on Biological Diversity?

COP15 is the 15th Conference of Parties to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity. COPs take place every two years under the CBD. The CBD’s purpose is to conserve and ensure the sustainable use of biological diversity at every level.

At the 2010 talks in Nagoya, Japan, 194 countries (or parties) signed up to a series of 20 targets to be met by 2020. Dubbed the Aichi targets after the region in which Nagoya sits, they were created to address a wide variety of issues in support of global biodiversity. Following the conference, signatories were also required to devise national biodiversity plans to meet the targets. In the UK, biodiversity is a devolved policy issue, and so the devolved governments are responsible for creating and delivering their own action. The Scottish Government plan to publish the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy this month which is to be “the starting point in a process which will lead into the development of rolling delivery plans and, through the introduction of a Natural Environment Bill, statutory nature restoration targets.”

Fast forward a decade to 2020, and the 5th Global Biodiversity Outlook report revealed that these targets were spectacularly missed across the world. Despite world leaders promising a decade of concerted efforts to tackle the inexorable decline of nature, the world collectively failed to meet a single one of the 20 targets. Scotland only met nine of the 20 Aichi Biodiversity targets. This lack of progress and the deepening ecological emergency make it clear that while the last UN decade on biodiversity failed, this coming decade on ecosystem restoration cannot.

What’s the plan for COP15?

As parties prepare to meet in Montreal, initial plans for the new post-2020 biodiversity framework have already been drawn up. The final version will be decided at the conference but is expected to include an agreement to put global biodiversity on the path to recovery by 2030, and a target to protect 30% of the Earth’s land and seas by 2030.

We cannot afford to make the same mistakes and miss these targets a second time. The evidence is clear that continuing nature’s destruction will lead to thousands more extinctions, pose a serious risk to global food insecurity, and increase the likelihood of further pandemics like Covid-19. And as the climate crisis worsens, degraded ecosystems also limit our resilience and ability to adapt to extreme weather events.

What role can Scotland play in influencing the outcome of COP15?  

A new international deal for nature must be matched by domestic ambition to bend the curve of biodiversity loss and deliver commitments made under the CBD. Although the UK is a party to the convention and will therefore be expected to deliver on the targets that are agreed, Scotland is responsible for the implementation of international agreements in devolved areas like biodiversity.

The Scottish Government has committed to protect at least 30% of Scotland’s land and seas for nature by 2030, and highly protect 10%. This commitment goes beyond those of the other governments in the UK and aligns with the European Union’s 2030 Biodiversity Strategy. LINK also welcomed the Edinburgh Declaration on post 2020 Global Biodiversity Framework, which has called for a collective commitment from subnational Governments, cities, and local authorities to raise ambition for nature’s recovery.

However, whilst these announcements are welcomed, Scotland needs to show that they are serious about tackling the biodiversity crisis by translating these promises into genuine action on the ground. We want to see: 

  1. Targets: To meet the ambitious commitments set out in the Scottish Government’s statement of intent, Scotland’s Biodiversity Strategy and Natural Environment Bill must contain ambitious and meaningful legally binding targets, and be supported with the resources needed to deliver nature’s recovery.
  2. Programmes of Ecosystem Restoration and Species Recovery: A habitat-focused approach, working to restore specific ecosystem types via dedicated programmes of action, will enable efforts to be targeted to where it is most needed. We need a national programme of species recovery targeted at helping threatened species to recover.
  3. Adequate financing and a framework to track progress: A robust monitoring, enforcement, reporting, and verification system will also be crucial for assessing progress towards targets, and efforts to reach them must be supported by appropriate funding.
  4. Mainstream: Mainstreaming biodiversity delivery across government will be critical to halting and reversing nature loss. Furthermore, integration of an effective biodiversity duty across all government sectors is now urgently needed with appropriate and transparent reporting to enable progress monitoring.

 

If it can make these things happen, and if it can help inspire the world to treat nature and climate with equal urgency, the nature COP might just be our next big chance to save the planet.

 

Juliet Caldwell, Advocacy Officer at Scottish Environment LINK

 

This blog is part of the LINK Thinks COP15 series. Click here to read the series of blogs by LINK staff, members and Honorary Fellows who will be highlighting the importance of targeted action in protecting and restoring our precious nature over the course of the conference.

 

Image: Sandra Graham

LINK Thinks COP15

December 7th, 2022 by

The COP15 biodiversity summit will take place in Montreal, Canada 7 – 19 December. The Montreal conference is the latest in a series of international UN biodiversity summits, equivalent to the climate COPs, aimed at conserving and ensuring the sustainable use of global biodiversity.

A new international deal for nature must be matched by domestic ambition to bend the curve of biodiversity loss and deliver commitments made under the CBD. Although the UK is a party to the convention and will therefore be expected to deliver on the targets that are agreed, Scotland is responsible for the implementation of international agreements in devolved areas like biodiversity.

This series of blogs by LINK staff, members, Honorary Fellows and invited guests highlight the importance of targeted action to protect and restore Scotland’s nature.

Image: Calum McLennan

 

Blogs

7th December 2022

COP15: An opportunity for Scotland to lead the way on nature’s recovery

8th December 2022

A Future for Mountain Plants (Alistair Whyte, Plantlife Scotland)

Trailing Azalea Cairngorm Plateau Alistair Whyte

9th December 2022

Bugs Matter – The Importance of Urban and Grassland Ecosystems (Natalie Stevenson, Buglife)

13th December 2022

The Importance of Freshwater Ecosystems (Sheila Gundry, Froglife)

15th December 2022

What does the ocean need from COP15? (Esther Brooker and Fanny Royanez, LINK)

6th January 2023

2023 must be the year where we turn a corner for nature (Dan Paris, LINK)

 

Reflecting on the National Planning Framework 4

November 28th, 2022 by

The Fourth National Planning Framework (NPF4): revised draft was published 8 November 2022 and sets out a plan for Scotland to create sustainable, liveable and productive places to improve people’s lives. 

Bruce Wilson, Head of Policy and Advocacy at Scottish Wildlife Trust, represented LINK when giving evidence to the Local Government, Housing and Planning Committee on 22nd November. Bruce highlighted that LINK welcomes the changes made to significantly improve NPF4 and appreciates the work the Committee has done to ensure the planning system plays its part in restoring nature, as well as delivering for people and climate.  

Bruce highlighted that ‘the equal weight given to climate and nature in this revised draft is strongly welcomed.’ This provides clarity for decision-makers and recognises the interrelated nature of these issues. This is not to say that there will not be challenges in the implementation of the policies and much will depend on future guidance and decision-making. 

The revised draft strong step in the right direction to include a definition of nature-based solutions in line with the IUCN definition; ‘Nature-based solutions are actions to protect, sustainably manage, and restore natural and modified ecosystems that address societal challenges effectively and adaptively, simultaneously providing human wellbeing and biodiversity benefits. 

The strong policy wording on forestry and woodland is very welcome and has been strengthened since the last iteration of the Draft NPF4. For example:  

  • Provisions for ancient woodland and ancient and veteran trees have been improved even further, with the use of clearer language describing that developments will not be supported that impact on these habitats.  
  • Individual trees are highlighted in the document now, which is a positive improvement.  
  • Any land with existing woodland, or that has been identified as suitable for woodland creation must be enhanced, restored and should have additional trees integrated into development design. 

 

We welcome the intent of Policy 3, to protect biodiversity, reverse biodiversity loss, deliver positive effects from development and strengthen nature networks. Although nature networks are mentioned numerous times in this policy, it is not clear whether guidance will follow on this. NatureScot have been commissioned by the Scottish Government to develop and publish a national framework setting a clear vision, principles and approach for local delivery of Nature Networks in Scotland. It is disappointing that this is not mentioned in the Delivery Plan. 

Bruce highlighted that ‘we need to know the impact that we have created in order to have positive effects of biodiversity’ and ‘we can’t manage what we don’t measure and there isn’t enough emphasis on how we measure our biodiversity impact’. We must be very wary of claiming positive effects without strict obligations to first of all work out what biodiversity is being lost. 

The planning system doesn’t hold all the answers to solving the biodiversity crisis, but it has the potential to play a significant role to deliver meaningful change to protect and enhance Scotland’s nature. NPF4 is a crucial opportunity to ensure Scotland’s planning system delivers transformative, meaningful action for people, climate and nature. We will be looking closely at NPF4 to see if it delivers the transformational change promised. 

 

Juliet Caldwell, LINK’s Advocacy Officer

 

Image: Calum McLennan

COP27 and the need to move faster together

November 23rd, 2022 by

At the end of COP26 in Glasgow last year, we concluded that some progress had been made, but the rate of progress was not fast enough (LINK Thinks blog 22 November 2021).

Another 12 months into the decade when a real and accelerated effective change is needed, has COP27 delivered?

In a single lifetime, we have put 1.5 x more carbon into the atmosphere. And we have halved the extent of remaining wilderness in the world. These are grim statistics. But are they moving the world’s politicians into more effective action to change our course?

Although we heard renewed commitment to 1.5oC,  we didn’t see the level of commitment to actions needed to achieve that. The commitments to accelerate efforts to phase ‘down’ coal and fossil fuel subsidies still lag behind business, technological and civic society shifts to renewable energy. Immediate action to reduce emissions drastically was not addressed. This reluctance looks like more of a sop to fossil fuel lobbying than scientific evidence and civic needs.

The loss and damage funding, and the Santiago Network for Loss and Damage, are good moves forward, although slower than needed given the missed 2020 targets on climate finance. And the Forest and Climate Leaders’ Partnership launch aiming to halt forest loss and land degradation by 2030 is helpful.

But COP needs to move with the changing times: it needs to move beyond its original purpose of international negotiation much more towards the purpose of delivering implementation and accountability. Indeed, implementation, the theme of this year’s COP27, requires a lot more cooperation than we’ve seen as well as the courage to map out and action everything we can do better.

Cooperation and implementation works across COPs too: nature didn’t really figure in this year’s COP. Unlike in Glasgow, where nature was seen as a key element for action, this year, despite COP15, the biodiversity COP, being just weeks away, it did not really feature.

The climate crisis and the biodiversity crisis are one and the same thing: you can’t reach net zero without nature and you can’t halt nature loss without meeting net zero. Why then was nature largely absent from COP27? We urgently need joined up action and ambition to cut emissions and to halt and reverse the ongoing catastrophic biodiversity loss and species extinction. That requires a change in mind set. We need to move out of our silos tackling one problem at a time – we need to find a way for systemic change, built on collaboration and cooperation. We need to work together  to achieve justice and access to a safe climate and thriving and resilient ecosystems for the people of today and for future generations.

That leaves a big job for COP15 in Montreal in December. Agreeing the international global targets to halt the loss of nature by 2030 and restore nature by 2050 will take us a long way: we will be able to measure our actions, learn lessons on what works and what doesn’t and act accordingly. But success will depend on even greater ambitions to work together, to collaborate across borders to limit nature loss across the world, to reduce the world’s reliance on natural resources and to move instead towards a global circular economy where natural resources are only used at the rate at which they are replaced.

And therein lies the big unspoken issue. Exponential changes in carbon emissions and loss of wilderness have happened in just 80 years. But forests take 100s of years to grow to maturity, peatlands and coral reefs take 1000s of years to reach full functionality. What humans do in a few decades, nature takes millennia. Ironically, that means humans have to change very quickly to match our rates of consumption to the natural world’s rate of accumulation: we need to speed up moving towards a much much slower rate of use. And we need to do that within a decade.   

Join us back here on LINK Thinks for COP15, when we’ll be sharing more thoughts on the negotiations in Montreal in December.

Deborah Long, Chief Officer at LINK