In 2011, LINK published our first Rhetoric to Reality assessment. In it, we commissioned an independent consultant to assess 8 key areas of environmental policy on how far reality on the ground had matched the rhetoric of policy. Now, ten years on, we’ve commissioned another assessment. A decadal review seems timely: it covers the life span of two Parliaments, we’re at the start of the UN Decade of Ecosystem Restoration and we have a new Parliament with the Greens holding ministerial portfolios, the first time ever in UK politics. The Bute House Agreement is bringing environmental legislation to the fore and giving impetus to Scotland’s’ leadership on climate and nature.
“The challenges facing biodiversity are as important as the challenge of climate change, and I want Scotland to be leading the way in our response.” Rt. Hon. Nicola Sturgeon MSP, July 2019
Looking more widely, while COP26 in November didn’t go far enough to ensure the world halts warming to 1.5oC, it was good to see nature at the forefront and the clear recognition that the climate and nature crises are interlinked and urgent. The very recent IPCC report indicates we are most definitely not going far or fast enough on climate action. We need now to see momentum for nature and climate built upon and furthered at the Nature COP15 due later this year. That is our next opportunity to commit to targets to halt the loss of nature by 2030 and to restore it by 2050. Tough targets but we are living through a crisis.
This is just one of the many opportunities we have in front of us this year and just one of the many reasons why working together with our partners is so crucial. Wider and better collaboration has never been more needed – to bring people together, to win more hearts and to demand that government delivers the changes that are needed.
This report is our contribution to the debate. It is a springboard to help us identify what needs to happen in Scotland to meet our ambitions, and what we, as the environment sector, can do. We welcome the government’s leadership on the climate emergency and the statements around the nature crisis – we really want to help build that into reality.
This report was born from conversations amongst LINK’s 14 policy groups around the policy areas we wanted to examine. This was followed by interviews with Groups and their members to build the evidence for change, both positive and negative, and to identify a set of recommendations to help move us all forward from rhetoric into reality. The overall conclusion is that despite the very welcome rhetoric around the nature and climate crises, reality is not yet measuring up. In order for rhetoric to become reality within the next 9 years, we think we need improved scrutiny, audit and challenge, statutory targets, duties and powers, a much stronger voice for the environment across Parliament, government and society and we need to address the balance in power between the environment and economic strategy and it needs funding. Those issues are just as alive today as they were 10 years ago but by working in partnership with government and wider society, it is possible to make the significant changes we need to make in order to restore nature.
Even since we finished this report in April, the good news is that things are changing. Change is happening at an incredible speed here in Scotland. Within the last 2 weeks, we’ve seen, for example, the new interim principles for responsible investment in natural capital, which we welcome, setting a level of ambition that we support and very much want to see turned into reality. The Blue Economy vision has been published, and if the recent welcome commitments on Highly Protected Marine Areas, an inshore cap on fishing, completing protections for the Marine Protected Area network and Priority Marine features are delivered in full, that will be a significant step from rhetoric to reality. We want that pace of change to be maintained.
Our report is available to read here. We’d love to hear your thoughts: contact us via social media and let us know what you think.