My passion for wildlife was stimulated in my teenage years, mainly thanks to my Mum (a biology teacher) who made me look at the world differently and being inspired by writers such as Paul Colinvaux. This early interest developed into biological research in my 20s, when I did practical conservation work in places such as the Comores and Mongolia.
Today, any free time I have I spend pottering around the flatlands of East Anglia or escaping to our hut on the Northumberland coast looking for wildlife and castles with my wife and children.
I studied Biological Sciences at Oxford and Conservation at UCL, and worked at Wildlife and Countryside Link before spending five years as Conservation Director at Plantlife.
I joined the RSPB as Head of Government Affairs in 2004, became Head of Sustainable Development in 2006, before becoming Conservation Director in 2011.
A day that starts with meeting RSPB supporters in the sunshine and ends listening to the brilliant Miranda Richardson read poetry* has to be a good day.
The “Speak UP for the Love of” lobby of parliament was a success: more than 330 MPs were lobbied by c9,000 constituents and towards of the end of the day business leaders came together to urge the new Government to provide investor certainty for a low carbon future.
There felt a great sense of solidarity amongst the 100 or so partners that makes up The Climate Coalition. The RSPB was just one partner but it was great to see many of our members make the effort to join with those from faith groups, development groups, surfers, snowboarders and local community groups.
We wanted to ensure climate change becomes a high priority for this Parliament and I think yesterday will have helped.
Politicians, like my new local MP, Daniel Zeichner, could have been left in little doubt about the high expectations that their constituents have of them in the fight against climate change. The passion and determination was on show for all to see. None more so that from my colleagues from Team Sky-Lark that had cycled from Edinburgh over the last few days in order to lobby the new intake of MPs from Scotland.
At an evening event hosted by Marks & Spencer, Amber Rudd, the new climate change secretary, heard three of the biggest businesses in the UK (M&S, Unilever and Ikea) say that they want a consistent approach from all parts of government to help them play their part in creating a new economy that is not reliant on high carbon infrastructure. And she was convincing in her replies. It is heartening to hear a member of the Cabinet speak with passion and conviction about tackling climate change.
The charities and other NGOs that made the day happen have demonstrated what happens when we leave brands at the door, and work together. As a Board member of the Climate Coalition it has been a privilege watching the teams from across the different organisations develop and execute a plan so brilliantly. And it is always satisfying to see supporters from so many different organisations mix together on the streets. It was a genuine team effort and I think that this will serve us well as we continue the civil society campaign for action on climate change in the run to the crucial UN talks in Paris at the end of the year and beyond.
And I’ll end with a thought from the lead singer of the band that played at the rally at the end of the lobby. He just happens to be a birder as well as the frontman for Stornoway, and his words struck a chord with me,
“All species are affected by climate change but it is only our species that can come up with a long term plan to do something about it.”
*Extinction by Jackie Kay and Cantre’r Gwaelod by Gillian Clarke
Today's the day to speak up for nature in the face of climate change.
I am off to London for what promises to be the largest ever climate lobby of Westminster. We're calling this event "Speak Up For The Love Of" . The sun is shining and it’s looking like it’ll be a glorious day for people to line the streets around the Houses of Parliament and speak to their MPs about climate change.
Chris Gomersall's fabulous image of golden plover in flight
The RSPB has helped to organise this day with friends from The Climate Coalition made up of a host of other charities and NGOs. All the people that come today have a shared concern about the impacts of climate change on people and on wildlife.
The IPCC reports last year (see here) provide the motivation for action - unless we decarbonise the global economy, we face dangerous global temperature rises, an unstable climate with catastrophic consequences for the poorest people of the world and for our most sensitive ecosystems.
I’m looking forward to meeting my new MP, Daniel Zeichner, and asking him to make a climate change a priority during this Parliament, and to push for ambitious action at the UN summit in Paris in December. I've listed our 'asks' at the end of the blog.
Our collective numbers will also be a powerful reminder to government of the pledge David Cameron signed just a few short months ago committing to action on climate change.
It should be a fun day. I expect to bump into RSPB colleagues from across the organisation - including those in Team Sky-Lark who have cycled all the way from Edinburgh this week - and to meet many RSPB supporters who will be congregating in St John’s Gardens. If you’re attending, do come and see us from 11am.
But today’s event isn’t a one-off. Today feels like part of a growing tide of action around the world on climate change.
Two days ago (15 June) the International Energy Agency published its World Energy Outlook Special Report on climate change and energy. The report calls for the UN climate negotiations to result in a peak in global emissions by 2020 and then a fall.
Tomorrow (18 June) we’re expecting the Pope’s encyclical on climate change and the environment. Whatever your views on religion, this is (if the draft that has been leaked in the media is anything to go by) a welcome intervention that could encourage many individuals and organisations to see the environment as a more important concern and to take more action to protect it.
And "Speak Up For The Love Of" is just one step on the path to a cleaner future. The Climate Coalition and the RSPB will continue to do what we can to build a movement for action on climate change in the UK until Paris and after it.
You can follow today’s events on Twitter through @Natures_Voice or #fortheloveof. And, if you couldn’t make it along on today, you can still send your MP a message.
Tomorrow, I'll offer my highlights from today’s activities, and will on the message Amber Rudd MP, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, will have for us at a reception this evening.
What The Climate Coalition is asking MPs to do
Our goal worldwide is 100% clean, safe energy by 2050, protecting people and nature. We’re asking UK politicians to tackle climate change domestically and globally:
1. Domestic action
We're asking politicians to ask the Prime Minister and Chancellor to back a low-carbon infrastructure plan, covering energy and transport and the restoration of nature. This plan should include:
Warm homes for all • Ensuring the UK’s buildings are energy-efficient by making the retrofit of existing homes a government infrastructure priority.• Making 2 million of the UK’s low-income homes highly efficient by 2020, and all 6 million low income homes highly efficient by 2025.• Ensuring new building regulations for homes and buildings in England are zero-carbon.
Clean, safe power• Ending climate pollution from coal by 2023.• Creating an almost entirely carbon-free power system by 2030.• Introducing a long-term investment plan for renewable energy sources.• Making sure households, communities and businesses have a real stake in the plan.
Protecting people and nature• Introducing a statutory commitment to restore natural places and systems within a generation, making sure nature and people can withstand and adapt to climate change – for example by coping with more flooding and droughts.
2. International action
The UK government should use all of its powers and influence to work for international action on climate change – specifically:• Make sure the new Sustainable Development Goals agreed in September 2015 respond to the threat of increasing climate change and deliver low-carbon development. • Help agree a global climate deal in Paris this December that requires all countries to take their fair share of action to limit global temperature rise to well below the internationally agreed target of 2°C and support developing countries to cope with escalating climate impacts.
To achieve this, we are calling on the UK government to support a global goal to phase out pollution from fossil fuels for 100% clean, safe energy by 2050. This means richer countries shifting first and rapidly from fossil fuels towards renewable energy, and delivering climate finance for developing countries so they can achieve clean development and adapt to the impacts of climate change.
Wednesday’s lobby of Parliament is an opportunity to ensure the new crop of MPs have climate change high on their list of priorities. The Climate Coalition will be arguing for a fair and binding global climate deal in Paris at the end of the year while also seeking a comprehensive plan of action at home.
The RSPB and our members will be there in force articulating our concern about the impact of climate change on wildlife: science suggests that with every degree rise in global temperatures 10% of species are likely to be committed to extinction.
Earlier this year, Malcolm Ausden and colleagues from the RSPB, BTO and Natural England published an article in British Wildlife about how our birdlife might change over the next few decades as a result of climate change and the implications for conservation. If you have not done so, it is well worth getting hold of a copy (here) and having a read.
Based on modelling work, Malcolm's team looked at which species might be at risk of extinction from Britain over the next few decades and which might establish and re-establish themselves as breeding species .
Unless we buck current trends and curb greenhouse gas emissions, we are on course for a 3 degree rise in global temperatures (from pre-industrial levels) sometime this century. And, this will have huge consequence of our breeding birds. Previous research (here) had suggested that species would on average more 550km north and species would lose up to a fifth of their range. Of course any species’ ability to survive in new climatic conditions is dependent on available suitable habitat.
Malcolm’s team suggest that unless we stabilise the climate, a range of species will highly vulnerable with a high likelihood of being committed to extinction in Britain: upland species such as snow bunting, dotterel; freshwater and coastal species like Salvonian grebe and common scoter; farmland species like turtle dove; woodland species like capercaillie; and seabirds such as Arctic skua. But, we have a great responsibility to provide welcoming habitat for species whose ranges are shifting northwards such as black kite, cattle egret and white stork alongside species that are already trying to establish themselves as British breeding species - such as black-winged stilt, little bittern and glossy ibis.
And the authors point out that other less mobile species such as habitat-specialist butterflies or reptiles might be even more vulnerable.
Yet, this future is not inevitable - we can take action to avoid catastrophic consequences if we...
...deliver a global and national plan to tackle greenhouse gas emissions to reduce the risks to wildlife
...ensure the transition to a low carbon economy takes place in harmony with nature (as I argued in my previous blog)
...take action to help wildlife adapt to a changing climate by investing in more, bigger, better and connected protected areas – deliverable if we were to implement in full the requirements of the EU Birds and Habitats Directive
And that’s why we are delighted that hundreds of thousands of people across Europe are joining the campaign to defend of our laws that defend nature, and why we shall continue to play our part in the civil society campaign to tackle climate change.
I look forward to seeing some of you on Wednesday.
- Chris Gomersall's image of dotterel
- Mike Langman's images of black-winged stilt, little bittern and glossy ibis: the photographer's target species of the future