Scotland and the UN Decade of Ecosystem Restoration: 5 priorities for the coming year

23 May 2022

How important is nature to us all? We live in an ever changing world with biodiversity loss and ecosystem that no longer function, extreme climate changes and pressures of war, costs of living, energy and food security issues, all impacting us all now, here in Scotland and across the world. Is it self indulgent to be concerned with nature loss and climate change in the face of so much human suffering and environmental destruction?

Absolutely not. If we continue down today’s trajectory, there is much more environmental destruction and human suffering baked into our future. Arguably if we had acted earlier to reduce emissions, halt nature loss, the energy and food security issues we face today would be much less severe.

Scotland’s nature is iconic and world renowned for its beauty, but it is also degraded and its decline is contributing to climate change. Scotland’s habitats give us unique opportunities for ecosystem restoration. Scottish peatlands hold over 1.6 billion tonnes of carbon. Scotland’s marine environment and habitats store more carbon than the land. Scotland’s native woodlands, including for example Caledonian pinewoods and Scotland’s’ rainforest, if they are healthy and regenerating, store carbon in trees and soils and connect woodland habitats to one another through nature networks, building much more resilient woodland.  Ecosystem restoration must be a central part of our action to tackle climate change.

We are currently at the start of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. It aims to prevent, halt and reverse the degradation of ecosystems on every continent and in every ocean. Scotland, as a historically high emitter and the site of globally important habitats, has a duty to show leadership in the fight against nature loss.

The global context for progress in this decade will be set this year by COP15, due to take place in Kunming in September: COP15 will see the adoption of the post-2020 global biodiversity framework, which provides a strategic vision to be living in harmony with nature by 2050, and a global roadmap for the conservation, protection, restoration and sustainable management of biodiversity and ecosystems for the next decade. It’s got some ambitious targets and it has the potential to be far reaching, if adopted.

If the best time to plant a  tree was 20 years ago and the next best time is today – then it stands that the next best time to halt the destruction of nature, to limit emissions and to reconnect people to nature is today.

The challenges are huge and many and the time is short. BUT there is also determination – our members between them have more than 0.5 million supporters in Scotland. There is innovation – look at some of the initiatives here in our slideshow. We have the recognition of the importance of nature – not just for itself, but for ourselves and the future the planet: the BBC has shown that and the Scottish Government have reiterated it. And we have a legacy to pass on: what will that be?

Nature and ecosystem restoration must be central to everything we do from now on:

  • We need leadership on biodiversity and addressing the nature crisis alongside the climate crisis with strong, ambitious, legally binding targets to restore nature: so we know where we need to get to within the Decade of Ecosystem Restoration and how to get there. We have to do this now or it will be too late.
  • Nature needs to be at the heart of government: it needs to be in all portfolios and all of government should be working with nature in mind. Nature has to become the new climate and net zero, both because it is so important in its own right, but also because we cannot meet our climate targets without restoring nature. In fact, Scotland’s new biodiversity strategy should be our nature emergency strategy.
  • Protecting 30% of Scotland’s land and highly protecting at least 10% of Scotland’s seas will be vital going forwards. We need to do this properly, not just on paper.
  • Creating a Scottish Nature Network to restore and protect our habitats and native species will build the wider ecosystem resilience we need through planning reform, land use planning and land use support.
  • Reforming farming subsidy: 75% of Scotland’s land is farmed – the agricultural subsidy of £750 million a year is being reformed and this is a once in a generation opportunity to make farming work for nature, climate and thriving rural communities.

 I’m looking forward to the conversations, connections, resolutions, promises and collaborations that will happen tonight and in the future. We want to make the next 8 years of this Decade for Ecosystem restoration count. Years when we halt the loss of nature, reverse its decline, reconnect with nature and create thriving communities and a future for young people.

This is the text of the speech given by LINK’s Chief Officer at the LINK Parliamentary reception at Holyrood, on 18 May 2022

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