Positive by nature: Planning for nature to meet net-zero 

28 Mar 2022

Today, we are facing twin emergencies: climate change and biodiversity loss.  

“The climate crisis is inseparable from the nature and biodiversity crisis. Scotland has a duty to show leadership on both.

Rt. Hon. Nicola Sturgeon MSP, Sept 2021  

Since COP26 in Glasgow in 2021, we have witnessed a very welcome focus on net-zero and the climate challenge. But there is another challenge that is just as important to the planet: the nature crisis. While it is as important, it is more difficult to grasp what we need to do. Partly because we haven’t yet agreed where we need to aim (our nature targets) and partly because action for climate change can contribute to the nature crisis.  

The Biodiversity Intactness Index (BII) is one measure of how Scotland’s natural environment is faring – it measures how intact it is – and intactness equals resilience to change. We also have measures of species decline in terms of abundance and distribution/range through State of Nature Scotland Report 2019  (updated every 3 years). The BII shows the UK is bottom of the G7, and third from the bottom of EU countries. Within the UK, Scotland is doing slightly better than England, Wales or Northern Ireland but better than bottom is not great, especially for a nation that prides itself on its natural environment. 

Scotland’s natural environment is just as much under threat as in the rest of the world. The UN has designated this decade as the Decade for Ecosystem Restoration  where the world needs to take real, sustained and effective action to restore ecosystems. We have 9 more years to restore the planet and it has never been more urgent.  

Ecosystems support all life on Earth. The healthier our ecosystems are, the healthier the planet – and its people, our societies and economies. The UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration aims to prevent, halt and reverse the degradation of ecosystems on every continent and in every ocean. It can help to end poverty, combat climate change and prevent mass extinction. It will only succeed if everyone plays a part. 

Scotland’s ambition to reach net zero by 2045 is already clear. COP15, later this year, will agree global ambitions to halt the loss of nature by 2030 and to restore it by 2050.  Both these climate and nature targets are tough to meet. Both can also be tackled through nature based solutions. There is one particular and hugely important example: Nature Networks. 

Nature networks are not just an environment policy priority however. To work, they need to be delivered through many strands of policy. One key one, currently out for consultation is the National Planning Framework 4 (NPF4). To be effective and successful, which we believe it absolutely has to be for nature and climate emergency reasons, NPF4 will be a crucial  mechanism to embed and enable delivery of Nature networks across Scotland. 

Today we face a key question: how can we embed nature restoration within the next 9 years into the planning system to deliver for climate and local communities? This is not a question of choice. It’s a question of how we do it and how we do it effectively and quickly. We can’t afford to bolt nature restoration onto other actions or worse, forget about it until it’s too late.  

We’re still only now working out what we’re aiming for in terms of targets for nature restoration. There is widespread concern that nature restoration will get left out of the new planning priorities in NPF4. The new Scottish Biodiversity Strategy and its delivery plan, is due October 2022 and will be key in identifying what we need to do for nature restoration. However, the mismatch in timescales between the design of NPF4 and the biodiversity strategy is a challenge. We clearly need to build action for nature restoration into planning now and, unfortunately that means, in advance of knowing what those targets for nature restoration will be. 

NPF 4 has as its ambition and action: ‘tackling and adapting to climate change and restoring biodiversity…through ‘radical change.’  

How can NPF4 deliver this radical change? 

  1. Development plans must facilitate biodiversity enhancement, nature recovery and nature restoration across the development plan area 
  1. NPF4 needs to build capacity and support for Nature-Based Solutions to climate change 
  1. Restoration requires linkages: a National Nature Network integrates nature into places that are planned, designed and built on land and at sea. 

 A National Nature Network is one path to the net-zero, nature positive future we need.  

If NPF 4 is to act as a central mechanism to deliver for net-zero and nature positive change, it needs to align with other relevant policies and plans that are also currently tasked with delivering elements of a Nature Network, including Regional Spatial Strategies, Land Use Strategy, Regional Land Use Partnerships, River Basin Management Plans, Forestry Strategy.  

It will mean requiring adjoining Local Authorities to coordinate, collaborate and deliver their own nature networks across boundaries in order to link into a national network. These need to define and take account of key components, including woodlands, corridors, stepping-stones and landscapes that are porous to nature. 

Vital to the success of NPF4 will be including policy that protects biodiversity gains and builds in future long term network growth. 

Thriving biodiversity is good for people, not just because we need to tackle climate change and biodiversity loss for the planet, but because it makes good sense in terms of creating more pleasant places to live which support our health and wellbeing. 

These are the reasons why we are looking for a transformative NPF4 that: 

  1. Leads a nationwide shift in planning places to benefit nature, climate and communities 
  2. Pivots from ‘business as usual’ to a new approach that tackles the nature and climate crises to meet future generation needs, and not just today’s 
  3. Embeds a new approach to future prosperity that restores nature, increases our resilience to change and offers a future worth having to new generations 

You can find out more about what a nature network is in this film below. More information on nature based solutions can be found here. 

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