Make year 2021 count

07 Oct 2021

By Deborah Long, chief officer, Scottish Environment LINK

In less than one month’s time, Scotland will be host to the United Nations’ Cop26 climate change conference.  

Dubbed as the most important climate summit ever, there’s much expectation to get it right and to set our ailing planet on track to recovery. And, with it, Scotland has much to prove. Now more than ever, it must lead by example and turn commitments into action.

Recent major UN reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and Intergovernmental Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) have spelled out the need for immediate action to limit global temperature rises to 1.5 degrees Celsius and to restore biodiversity.

The stark warnings come at a time when biodiversity in Scotland and worldwide is declining faster than at any time in human history. In Scotland alone, almost half of our species (49 per cent) have reduced in numbers in the last 50 years, and one in nine is at risk of extinction.

Since 2018, through the campaign, Fight for Scotland’s Nature, Scottish Environment LINK has called for legally binding targets for the recovery of biodiversity, similar to those in place to tackle climate change.

We welcome the Scottish government’s recent commitment to nature-restoration targets, through a Natural Environment Bill to be introduced in 2023-24. The proposal to designate ten per cent of our seas as highly protected is also promising. However, given the grave threats facing our natural world, for measures to be meaningful, Scotland must act now.

We need to see urgent, determined and demonstrable steps that will help halt nature’s decline by 2030 and put it on a path to recovery. Work to protect our natural environment for generations to come, reversing ecological decline and delivering nature-based solutions central to our climate change obligations can no longer be seen in isolation of one another, and a real time effort to tackle these challenges is now an immediate priority.

The Scottish government’s commitments, while welcome, need to be fully resourced if they are to have a fighting chance of success. We need adequate multi-annual funding at scale and for government to take a coherent, whole-society approach by working across communities and sectors.

And while the commitment to £500 million for nature restoration is promising, this is roughly half of what will be required from government to meet the scale of the task ahead.

If this is matched by £1 billion from philanthropic sources and green financing, and if our agricultural support system delivers for people, nature and climate, Scotland has a chance to begin to see the level of action needed to make the transformative change required, not only for nature but also the health of the nation.

The Scottish government’s commitment to a Good Food Nation Bill is also welcome. This offers the opportunity for Scotland to become a leader on nature and climate-friendly food production, increasing access for all to high quality, sustainable and healthy food – but it must deliver measurable progress.

Equally, initiatives such as the bottle-deposit scheme and a ban on non-essential, single-use plastics, heavily delayed by the pandemic and already in place in many countries, must go ahead.

There’s no time to wait. Let’s make the year 2021 count.

This article was first published in the Scotsman on 5 October 2021.

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