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.
One of the recurring themes of yesterday’s seminar on the future of UK biodiversity policy was the role of effective regulation and incentives, supported by clear government ambition, to both protect and drive investment in natural resource management.
We are still in the early days of trying to work out how best to capture the value of nature in decision-making and support pro-nature business behaviour but I was buoyed by the growing consensus about the direction of travel. While some, like the Welsh Government, have a clear plan, within England, we still await the publication of the 25 year plan for the environment – now due after the EU Referendum.
I think we have a lot to learn from the way that climate change policy has evolved over the past decade.
Today, for example, world leaders are gathering in New York for the signing ceremony of the Paris global climate treaty. While many have argued, rightly, that the Paris Treaty does not go far enough, the new commitment to keep global temperatures well below 2oC and on a path to 1.5 oC is already having a profound impact.
Kittiwakes - at risk from a changing climate (Andy Hay, rspb-images.com)
The winds of change are sweeping across the worlds of businesses and finance as fossil fuels and their associated industries no longer look like appealing assets. Indeed, I noted with interest that Peabody, the world’s largest private-sector coal company filed for bankruptcy last week while the papers are full of reports of solar power companies booming globally. Remarkably, even Saudi Arabia has stated this month that it no longer wants its economy to be dependent on oil in 20 years time.
Companies and countries are responding to global signals about our collective desire to decarbonise the global economy.
Closer to home, good foundations remain in place with the Climate Change Act (2008) providing the statutory drive for action. It established a long term target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from a 1990 baseline by 80% by 2050 and then obliged the introduction of five year carbon budgets to ensure that we were on the trajectory.
This has shaped policy and business has responded.
However, the Paris treaty has now raised ambition in line with science. The UK, like the rest of the EU is waiting before it revises its climate ambition for a major review in 2018 to be conducted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). This will look at the implications of cutting emissions dramatically to take us on a path to limiting temperature rise to 1.5 oC.
Waiting on the outcomes of the review might seem sensible were it not that the EU’s new package of climate and energy laws (which set us on a path for up to 2.4oC warming) will be negotiated by all member states during 2016-17. NGOs including the RSPB have been robust in highlighting this issue.
Here in the UK, the Government is currently deciding on the targets and policies needed to reduce emissions in the 2028-32 period (known as the Fifth Carbon Budget). In evidence the RSPB recently submitted to the Energy and Climate Change Select Committee’s inquiry on the Fifth Carbon Budget, we highlight just how crucial delivering substantial emissions reductions is to securing a future for wildlife. Indeed I have posted before on the very significant impacts climate change is expected to have on the natural world.
While the UK Government played a valuable role in the Paris discussions, greater action is now needed at home. Cuts in measures to support carbon reduction has left us veering away from having the means to deliver the emissions reductions needed. Furthermore, problems with the way carbon is counted in our carbon budgets must be addressed to prevent any carbon budget looking more ambitious than it really is.
So, for both climate and for nature policy, we need ambition that is commensurate with need, legislative certainty and incentives that drive innovative investment to realise that change.
For climate, this means the UK Government must ensure that UK law reflects the ambition required to stay within safe climate limits as set out in the Paris treaty so that our emissions reach net zero by 2050. Climate Minister Andrea Leadsom recently that “The Government believes we will need to take the step of enshrining the Paris goal of net zero emissions in UK law”, this needs to be followed by swift action if we are to ensure a safe future for all the species affected by climate change including our own.
And, as the UK Government ponders its 25 year plan for the environment, I encourage it to look again at the lessons from climate change policy and develop a plan that matches the needs of nature.