The Environmental Audit Committee is launching a new inquiry into biodiversity and ecosystems. The inquiry will examine how best to protect and enhance biodiversity whilst considering nature-based solutions to climate change (ctions that protect, manage and restore natural and modified ecosystems to address societal challenges and enhance human wellbeing) and the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.
The inquiry will review the UK Government’s performance on achieving international and domestic targets in preparation for the fifteenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP15) to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), which is now due to be held in autumn 2021 in Kunming, China.
Concerns about a mass extinction crisis began in the 1980s, but biodiversity is continuing to decline faster now than at any time in human history. The UK has seen a 13% decline in average species’ abundance and 15% of species within the UK are threatened with extinction. The UK’s Overseas Territories are home to 94% of British endemic species.
Ecosystems are critical in providing food, energy, medicines, sustaining air, water and soil quality and being the sole sinks for anthropogenic carbon emissions. These provisions are vital for human existence and good quality of life, however 14 of the 18 categories of ‘contributions of nature’ assessed in the IPBES Global Assessment Report have declined since 1970.
The main pressures on nature in the UK are climate change, urbanisation, pollution, hydrological change, invasive non-native species and aspects of agricultural and woodland management.
The costs of biodiversity loss are being evaluated within the up-coming Review of the Economics of Biodiversity: the Dasgputa Review, commissioned by the HM Treasury. Incorporating the multiple values of ecosystem functions into economic incentives can result in better ecological, economic and social outcomes, if set at a level that conservation of ecosystems can compete with the production of commodities such as cattle, crops and timber. However, nature also has intrinsicvalue and its non-material benefits must be recognised.
2020 was named “the super year for nature” by the UN Environmental Programme because of the range of conferences covering climate change and biodiversity that were scheduled to take place this year. When these conferences will go ahead is now uncertain given the COVID-19 pandemic. However, 2020 remains a crucial year to link climate strategies with promoting sustainable development and tackling biodiversity loss.
The UK has commitments under the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals to promote sustainable use of terrestrial and marine ecosystems and to halt biodiversity loss (Goal 14 ‘Life below water’ and Goal 15 ‘Life on land’). The UK is also a signatory to the 2010 Aichi Biodiversity Targets which committed the UK to at least halving the rate of loss of natural habitat and preventing the extinction of all known threatened species by 2020.
In addition, the UK has its own domestic targets set out in the 25 Year Environmental Plan. New landmark environmental legislation is set to deliver important conservation mechanisms. The Agriculture bill commits to establishing an Environmental Land Management scheme and the Environment Bill provides for the creation of a new biodiversity net gain requirement for developments. The Environment Bill also commits to creating or restoring 500,000 hectares of wildlife habitat as part of a Nature Recovery Network. This will require active participation from local authorities.