Biodiversity and translating COP15
Jayne Manley, CEO
In December, a Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) was agreed on the final day of negotiations at the United Nations Biodiversity Conference (COP15) by the 200 states who participated. To me, this felt like the most relevant agreement that we have seen emerging from global biodiversity discussions so far, with significant vision and some very tight targets, mainly delivering in 2030 and setting a direction on course for 2050.
At the national level, these global goals and targets herald – and require – significant change in vision and approach. In this article, I trace a journey from global biodiversity targets into what could emerge on the ground for people and for places within the UK, identify some of the good stuff that’s happening, and where it feels like we are falling behind if we want to halt the loss of biodiversity…
Global Biodiversity Framework goals
The Global Biodiversity Framework is focussed on halting biodiversity decline, and the criticality of this as a global response to the climate emergency. It agreed four long-term goals and 23 targets, all setting a direction towards 2050.
Goal A: By 2050, all ecosystems are to function – maintained, enhanced, or restored – with a substantial increase in the area of natural ecosystems.
Goal B: By 2050, biodiversity is to be sustainably used and managed, and nature’s contributions to people, including ecosystems, are valued, maintained and enhanced.
Goal C: By 2050, the benefits from use of genetic resources will be shared equitably.
Goal D: Adequate means of implementation, including financing and co-operation will be achieved.
A significant change in approach
Goals and targets are vital to ensure we all move in the right direction, but we musn’t forget that nature and climate will be delivered by people, in places. These global directions must be translated into different regions of the UK. The approaches taken across our countryside and urban areas, will determine the relevance and contribution to halting the loss of biodiversity and the meeting of climate targets.
Seven years and counting
While the majority of these targets require delivery by 2030, there are five that demand the greatest change in approach, policy and implementation:
‘30 by 30’: This is a commitment to protect at least 30% of land and water for nature by 2030. Countries need to ensure that 30% of degraded land and water ecosystems are in effective restoration to improve biodiversity. Plus, in the same timeframe, at least 30% of the land and water which are especially important for biodiversity and ecosystem functionality are effectively conserved and managed.
Corporate reporting on biodiversity: Corporates must take measures to regularly monitor, assess and disclose their risks, dependencies and impacts on biodiversity, and businesses will need to provide information to consumers to promote sustainable consumption.
Reducing pollution: Pollution risks and the negative impact of pollution from all sources will be reduced by 2030.
Reducing harmful subsidies: Commitment to the sustainable management of agriculture, aquaculture, fisheries and forestry. By 2025, countries will have identified and then eliminated or reformed the incentives and subsidies that are harmful for biodiversity.
Financial resources for biodiversity: Strengthened funding to implement national biodiversity strategies and action plans through leveraging private finance, promoting blended finance (from both public and private sector investment) and implementing strategies to raise resources and energise the private sector to invest in biodiversity.
(Not) getting lost in translation
Whilst the GBF is not legally binding, and there are no country specific targets, the UK is following the aspirations of the agreement. Given the looming targets and delivery deadlines, the government will need to introduce a raft of measures to get us on track.
My hope is that we will go beyond compliance. This is an opportunity for us to lead the way, and proactively put in place measures that will not only halt biodiversity loss, but restore it to a better state than before.
The GBF stipulates that national biodiversity strategies and action plans must be revised in line with the new global framework. Last week, the Government did just this, launching the Environment Improvement Plan 2023 an updating of the 25 Year Environment Plan.
The new Environmental Improvement Plan is not, perhaps, a game changer. Many of the key components have been in development for some time. But I am reassured that the government has pulled this together in one place with a renewed focus on the global targets. Hopefully, this will force more strategic thinking about how our targets can be achieved, and integrated into the Environmental Plan’s Outcome Indicators Framework.
’30 x 30’, reducing of pollution and elimination of harmful subsidies need to be actioned and delivered by more than adequate policy.
This is an opportunity for us to lead the way, and proactively put in place measures that will not only halt biodiversity loss, but restore it to a better state than before.
The good news is that some of these measures are already recognised in policy in the UK.
1. Local Nature Recovery
In the Nature Recovery Green Paper for protected sites and species, the UK Government described its commitment to protect 30% of land and sea in the UK by 2030.
The Environment Act requires local authorities to establish Local Nature Recovery Areas (LNRs). All of the country will be covered by a LNRs, each with a responsible authority. LNRs will identify biodiversity priorities and habitat maps and the opportunities and strategies for recovering or enhancing both habitats and species.
2. Reducing Pollution
The targets for pollution reduction set by the GBF include slashing excess nutrients lost to the environment by at least half. This GBF target has the potential to affect the ongoing regulation of diffuse pollution within the UK. Diffuse pollution is the release of potential pollutants from a range of activities that, individually, may have no effect on the water environment, but, collectively can result in significant environmental damage. This is a challenge for both the countryside and urban environments – including, for example, for new development in certain river catchment areas. It may also aid the resolution of water companies’ regular discharge of raw sewerage through storm overflows.
3. Investing in biodiversity
The GBF is likely to lead to further initiatives to support investment in biodiversity, particularly in relation to ‘blended’ and private investment in biodiversity schemes. Countries signing the Framework are expected to establish schemes to provide financial support for ecosystem services, green bonds and biodiversity offsets/credits. This is where Biodiversity Net Gain becomes important.
Whilst the GBF targets aim to mobilise capital at scale, here in the UK the government is mandating Biodiversity Net Gain through the Environment Act – focusing delivering nature recovery through private sector funding. From November 2023, the Environment Act requires all development schemes in England to deliver 10% biodiversity net gain, that must be maintained for a period of at least 30 years.
4. Driving change in the commercial sector
Customers are increasingly concerned about sustainability and taking a greater interest in the ecological sustainability of business supply chains. The GBF requires greater levels of corporate monitoring and reporting on biodiversity impacts. This is likely to drive more activity and interest by national and local government in the “E” of ESG (the Environmental, Social and Governance standards that measure a business’s impact on society, the environment, and how transparent and accountable it is).
5. Incentivising environmentally sensitive farming
The post-Brexit reform of agricultural subsidies in the UK is now proceeding and the GBF’s target for reducing harmful subsidies may have implications for its roll out.
Last month, the government provided more clarity on the Environmental Land Management Scheme actions and payment for 2023, including the Sustainable Farming Incentive and Countryside Stewardship Plus which will reward farmers for collaboratively supporting climate and nature activities. These moves signal positive subsidy support for farmers and land managers delivering biodiversity and ecosystem benefits alongside food production.
The year begins with progress
Whilst this may all sound (and is) complicated to understand and achieve, these recent announcements are a positive indication of government commitment to making a difference. Not only are we beginning to think differently, creatively and collaborativey across departments and central government, but there is also greater recognition of the need to listen to the many voices demanding real change for people and places on the ground and at scale.
There are some reassuring commitments embedded deep within the 262 pages of the EIP. For instance, the commitment to publish (in 2023) a Land Use Framework – something Earth Trust has long been asking for. Let’s hope that this is at sufficient detail to support decision making and spatial planning for food, water, trees, green energy generation, biodiversity, and climate action.
Alongside this, there is a pledge to produce a Green Finance Strategy where we should see greater detail on the proposed sources of higher levels of investment in biodiversity. My hope is that this will be more than re-labelling existing funds or overcommitting the contribution that new funds can deliver (on biodiversity net gain for instance).
There was an additional, welcome announcement last month – that the UK Government will require new developments in England to include SuDS – Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems. These urban wetlands – such as rain gardens, ponds and water channels – have multiple benefits. In addition to capturing and moving rain water and preventing flooding, SuDs provide habitat networks for wildlife and are great ways for people to experience natural solutions – rather than artificial ones – close to home.
The unveiling of the Green Infrastructure Framework last week described the standards for green and blue spaces across England. The GIF provides principles, guides and tools for local government planners and developers to work towards what good could look like for nature in urban environments. For the first time, UK Government is recognising the need for urban nature as a contribution to nature recovery, including:
- Urban greening factors such as green roofs and walls
- Urban tree canopy standards, promoting and increasing tree cover for urban living
- Accessible Greenspace Standards, with an emphasis on providing greenspace within a 15 min walk of people’s homes
- Green Infrastructure Strategy, to support the National Planning Policy Framework’s policy that local authorities should develop strategic policies for green infrastructure.
And whilst this is not mandated in planning, it is an important step forward in our drive to halt the loss of biodiversity and live more sustainably on Earth.
So whilst the Global Biodiversity Framework, its goals and targets, are hatched at a meeting on the other side of the world, the translation of these into country action is already beginning.
But – and for me – this is a big one… announcements are so far silent on what all this means locally for people and community engagement with their places. Will – and if so, how will – people be given the power and the resources to implement policies, standards and guidelines?