Environmental protection must be a priority for a post-Brexit Scotland

03 Feb 2020

©Sandra Graham

This article, by Charles Dundas, Chair of Scottish Environment LINK, was first published in The National on 2 February 2020.

We, Scotland’s people, love our nature. Our beautiful and varied natural environment is integral to who we are and how we see ourselves.

Yet we know that nature is in trouble and needs our help. The start of a new decade provides us with unique opportunities we must seize. This year, in which Scotland hosts the UN Climate Summit for the first time, we must focus on our ailing planet and the chance we still have to put things right.

From the iconic Scots pine to the Golden eagle and some of the world’s oldest coral reefs to one third of Europe’s breeding seabirds, all depend on Scotland’s natural environment being healthy to survive. We are also home to 5% of the planet’s peatlands. At first glance these may not seem like much, but they store a staggering 25 times more carbon than all the land-based vegetation in the UK.

But in Scotland 1 in 9 species, both plant and animal, is at risk of extinction. We urgently need concrete steps with joined up legislation that protects our natural world and allows it to flourish. Simply hoping for the best and letting the true effects of our broken nature to kick in would be catastrophic. If we act now, we have a precious window of opportunity to put nature back on the road to recovery.

Scotland’s natural environment is of world importance and has received millions of pounds in funding from the European Union. As much as 80 per cent of Scotland’s environmental protections also stem from EU legislation and Brexit will deprive us of crucial safeguards, just when we most need them. This is why Scottish Environment LINK, a coalition of more than 30 of Scotland’s leading environmental charities, has launched a bid under the campaign Fight for Scotland’s Nature for Scotland to have its own Environment Act.

People living in Scotland value the immense nature on our doorstep. In a poll conducted last summer, more than 90 per cent said they saw Scotland’s nature as important to our national identity, our economy, our health and wellbeing and in making Scotland a good place to raise a family. However, the way we use our land and seas and the growing pressure of climate change are taking their toll. It doesn’t have to be this way. We can halt the rapid decline in Scotland’s wildlife.

Nature is driven to perpetuate and reproduce itself and is able to recover. Just look at the return of Scotland’s otters. Confined to the highlands and islands in the 1970s due to pesticide pollution, thanks to vital legislation and funding otters are now found in most of our lochs and rivers, including in towns and cities.

Internationally, throughout 2019, we saw people across the globe join forces to call on governments to act before it’s too late. We are also seeing a growing awareness that stopping and reversing the nature emergency is within our grasp and goes hand in hand with tackling climate change. The loss of nature is far from a fait accompli.

In Scotland, the first hurdle in restoring our nature is to make sure Brexit does not unravel the environmental protections we already have from the EU. The Fight for Scotland’s Nature campaign is pushing for urgent legislation to embed European environmental principles in Scots law and to establish an independent watchdog to hold government to account.

But given the challenges now facing our environment, only fighting to keep the protections we have at present will not be enough. We need the Scottish Government to set clear, bold, legally binding targets to stop and remedy the loss of Scotland’s biodiversity on land and at sea. And, to make this a priority. Fast.

In November, Glasgow will host COP 26, the UN Climate Summit. This will follow the UN Biodiversity Conference in China in October, which will set international targets for the restoration of nature over the next decade.

Here, the world’s eyes will be on us and the Scottish Government will have the chance to lead by example. It will have to prove on a world stage its commitment to tackling climate change and the worryingly rapid loss of species and habitat, starting at home.

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