From catastrophic floods, to extreme heatwaves and wildfires, every day brings more news to remind us that the climate crisis is already here and having a devastating impact on livelihoods and nature. In November global leaders will gather in Glasgow to agree a way forward on climate change. It is vital that our leaders do not forget that this is not just a climate emergency but a nature and climate emergency, a twin crisis that must be tackled with shared solutions.
Nature is being lost around the world faster than ever. Scotland, a country world-famous for its wildlife and landscapes, was in fact recently found to be one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world, scoring 212th out of 240 countries and territories in the Biodiversity Intactness Index, an international measure of the health of ecosystems. This is a stark reminder of all we have already lost, whilst our amazing remaining places for nature show us how much we have left to lose.
Nature loss is driven by human activities, such as how we use the land and sea, and exploit natural resources, as well as pollution, the introduction of invasive species and climate change itself. But nature is also part of the solution: important habitats like peatlands, woodlands, saltmarsh and the oceans not only store large amounts of carbon when they are restored and healthy, but also support wildlife. The restoration of nature has a direct role to play in tackling climate change and helping rebuild societies from the pandemic, providing opportunities for jobs, improving our health and wellbeing, and supporting more resilient, nature-positive economies over the long term.
The Scottish Government has some big milestones coming up that will set the direction of travel for the next few years: the September Programme for Government, the United Nations Climate Conference (COP26) and the next Scottish budget. Addressing the nature and climate emergency, as one, must be the core green thread running through the heart of these events. We have the potential to make Scotland a world leader for nature, but Scottish Ministers must not delay. To put Scotland on a pathway to nature’s recovery, the Scottish Government must do three things:
Bring forward legally binding targets to halt the decline of Scotland’s nature by 2030 and secure its recovery by 2045, matching Scotland’s ambitious climate targets. This is vital to drive increases in wildlife populations and their spread across Scotland, end the threat of species going extinct from Scotland and increase the extent and quality of Scotland’s habitats. Develop Scotland’s next Biodiversity Strategy without delay, in collaboration with delivery partners and stakeholders. A strategy is vital for setting shared goals and priorities for the next decade. This strategy must not sit on a shelf gathering dust: it needs actions, responsibilities, timescales and adequate long-term funding. Honour its commitment to protect at least 30 per cent of Scotland’s land by 2030 by properly protecting our most important places for nature and managing them effectively so that they can thrive and recover, creating more of these places, and joining them up.
There is no time left to delay. Scotland failed on 11 of the 20 most recent international biodiversity targets. If we are to stand any chance of meeting the next ones, and if the Scottish Government is serious about its desire to be an environmental world leader, then it is time to set out plans and act.
Nature can rebound and thrive if we help it. We now need to drive action at-scale, to create a nature-rich Scotland for all our sakes.
Isobel Mercer, Senior Policy Officer, RSPB Scotland