A blog by Paul Walton, Head of Habitats and Species at RSPB Scotland and Vice-convener of LINK’s Wildlife Group.
Today, May 22nd, is the United Nations’ International Day of Biodiversity. The theme for this year is Our Solutions are in Nature.
When planning for this event, no one could ever have predicted how this theme would come to serve not only its original purpose – to focus minds on creative synergistic solutions to the twin biodiversity and climate emergencies – but also to resonate with such profound clarity as we move through the global pandemic and look towards a fundamentally transformed future.
The collective realisation that the way this transformation will unfold lies in our hands, that, despite collective loss and suffering, despite recession and job losses, we stand at a uniquely unfrozen moment, is tangible.
People are already beginning to find and take the opportunities inherent in our new context, to work towards a better world.
In New Zealand, a country with a human population virtually identical to Scotland’s, the government this week announced a $1.1 billion investment to create 11,000 new environment-based jobs. The focus and thrust of this investment is the restoration of nature: regional environment projects; the control of invasive species and biosecurity to prevent future problems; new jobs in the statutory conservation agencies’ programmes for protected areas and beyond, including species and habitat monitoring; and a new budget to fund biodiversity restoration on both public and private land.
Also this week, the European Commission is releasing its long-awaited Biodiversity Strategy – but in a progressive move, simultaneously launching its Farm to Fork Strategy. Agriculture and fishing are among the most important drivers of biodiversity loss across the planet. The simultaneous launch signals that a new norm may be emerging in Europe – where food production and nature work to mutual benefit for a healthy and sustainable future. LINK organisations have yet to analyse the detail of these strategies, but initial indications are promising: they aim to increase nature protected areas on land and at sea by 30%; to restore 10% of farmland for biodiversity, with more and better managed field margins, hedgerows and wildflower areas; to introduce binding nature restoration targets, to restore ecosystems such as peatlands, wetlands, forests and marine habitats – essential nature-based solutions for an effective package of climate change mitigation and adaptation.
The COVID-19 pandemic must offer lessons for us all. For me, it has brought home the simple fact that a healthy planet is a precondition for healthy human societies and personal wellbeing; that science and evidence should guide and direct policy; and that crises must be acted on quickly if we are to gain and effect control.
These two developments, at contrasting geographic scales and in distant parts of the world, hopefully signal that such lessons from the pandemic are beginning to be learned, and that this learning is being put into practice quickly and decisively.
We all know that despite the sudden and intense shift of focus that the pandemic brought us, the climate and biodiversity emergencies have not gone away. The State of Nature 2019 report tells us that we are losing nature in Scotland. The IPBES Global Assessment tells us that transformative change is needed to reverse such losses and avoid severe damage to human wellbeing from ecosystems degradation.
Scotland’s Environment Strategy and Programme for Government point to an intent to address these crises effectively in future. We already lead in key areas like peatland restoration. Now we are seeing strategic and practical post-Covid developments emerging across the world that signal new and progressive ways forward. I believe that with investment and imagination Scotland can join these leaders – and that a better future is in our grasp.