People and Nature Campaign: Written evidence to the Environmental Audit Committee’s Biodiversity and Ecosystems inquiry
People and Nature is a cross-party parliamentary campaign calling on the UK government to address the threats posed by biodiversity loss to sustainable development and poverty reduction goals, and to put people and nature at the heart of its development, foreign affairs and environmental strategies.
We were encouraged to see the Environmental Audit Committee launch this timely inquiry to consider the protection and enhancement of biodiversity and ecosystems in the UK and globally and welcomed in particular the Committee’s decision to consider this topic not in isolation but rather as a fundamental element of sustainable development and climate action.
The following submission outlines the urgent need for a joined-up approach to biodiversity, climate and development across the entirety of the UK’s domestic and international policy agenda and makes some suggestions as to how the government could achieve this. We would be delighted if there were an opportunity for a representative from our Steering Committee to give oral evidence to the Environmental Audit Committee to expand on the ideas below.
Recent evidence (e.g. IPCC and IPBES) shows with increasing clarity and urgency that we are facing global climate and nature crises, with biodiversity declining and temperatures rising at rates unprecedented throughout human history.
Biodiversity loss is not only an environmental crisis, but also a humanitarian and development one,, which is undermining progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals. Nature is at the heart of all human survival and wellbeing – from the air we breathe, to the water we drink, to the soil we use to grow our food, as well as protection from climate change and natural disasters. While we all depend on the goods and services provided by nature, the poorest people on the planet are often most directly reliant on these. As many as 90% of the world’s poorest people depend on biological resources for food, fuel, medicine, shelter and transportation, and many are unable to replace previously freely available natural resources once they disappear.
For these reasons, biodiversity must be recognised as central to sustainable development policy and as an important means of gaining co-benefits across many dimensions of sustainability. Any distinction between supporting people and supporting nature is a false one – where nature thrives, people thrive too. However, the world’s safety net has now been stretched almost to breaking point, to the extent that IPBES have warned socioeconomic pressures caused by land and ocean degradation, alongside climate change impacts, will undermine the wellbeing of 3.2 billion people. Furthermore, the devastating Covid-19 pandemic has once again exposed our vulnerability and the risks from further destabilising the planet and made clear that the world’s poorest and most vulnerable suffer the worst impacts. This must never happen again - it is time for urgent action.
While the link between poverty and climate change is by now fairly well-known and increasingly incorporated into policy-making, the link between biodiversity loss and worsening development outcomes is far too frequently overlooked, resulting in the nature crisis receiving a fraction of the political attention and funding – OECD figures put biodiversity finance at $78-91 bn/ year, compared to an estimated $579bn/ year in climate finance While the UK has achieved hugely impressive outcomes through our 0.7% GDP aid commitment, we have yet to do enough with our aid budget to protect the natural environment as a fundamental means of preventing poverty and promoting resilience to climate change impacts, which tend to have the most adverse outcomes on the poorest people.
The reality is that all three challenges – biodiversity loss, climate change and poverty – are inextricably connected and can only be effectively addressed together. Over the next year key global summits will take place, including COP15 of the Convention on Biological Diversity, a High Seas treaty negotiation, COP26, the G7 the G20, and the SDG-linked ‘Financing for Development in the era of Covid-19 and Beyond’ process, at which global governance frameworks on climate, nature, development, and post-Covid economic recovery will be established. There is a golden opportunity for the UK to demonstrate that it is serious about taking a truly sustainable approach to development which acknowledges and addresses the importance of reversing biodiversity loss. This needs to be done by establishing internal process towards integrated policy-making with clear processes and outcomes that others could follow and that the UK could use as part of its COP diplomatic outreach.
The UK Government has previously established some ground-breaking initiatives linking environment and development. The DFID/ NERC/ ESRC Ecosystem Services for Poverty Alleviation (ESPA) research programme was ahead of its time in exploring the interlinkages and trade-offs between environmental protection and poverty alleviation. The DEFRA-funded Darwin Initiative explicitly focusses on the dual challenges of biodiversity conservation and poverty alleviation, as does the Illegal Wildlife Trade Challenge Fund. Unfortunately, the UK’s current approach to climate, biodiversity and development does not go nearly far enough in addressing these urgent challenges, either individually or holistically. While there are some signs that the government is beginning to recognise the deeply intertwined nature of these issues (e.g. by increasing its International Climate Finance contributions and announcing initiatives such as the Blue Planet Fund and Biodiverse Landscapes Fund, which aim to preserve livelihoods while restoring nature), its approach remains contradictory and incoherent, with positive measures and funds being simultaneously undermined by the continued channelling of public funds to damaging activities. There is a worrying pattern of the UK taking steps to decarbonise and to protect nature domestically but failing to address our global footprint and consequently weakening global environment and development progress. This is an ineffective approach, both in terms of costs and outcomes, and, given the severity and immediacy of these issues, must be urgently improved.
A clear example of this incoherence, and one which has been very effectively interrogated by this Committee in the past, is UK Aid and Export Finance funding of fossil fuel exploitation. Despite the UK government’s commitment to achieving net zero emissions domestically and its explicit acknowledgement within its development strategy of the need for environmental action, the International Development Committee revealed that the UK spends as much on export finance supporting fossil fuels overseas (£4.8bn 2010-2016) as it does aid to combat climate change (£4.9 bn International Climate Finance 2011-2017). A recent joint investigation by Greenpeace’s Unearthed and BBC Newsnight revealed that these UKEF-financed fossil fuel projects will emit 69 million tonnes of carbon per year once completed. While the government announced at the 2020 UK-Africa summit that the UK would no longer finance coal projects abroad, this was immediately undermined by reminders that, in contrast to other overseas fossil fuel extraction that we continue to fund, we have not actually financed an international coal project since 2002. Furthermore, it then emerged that over 90% of the £2bn in energy deals struck during that summit were for fossil fuels, again unveiling fundamental inconsistencies in the UK’s approach. Despite reports of government planning to review UKEF support for fossil fuels, we have yet to see tangible progress on this issue.
Another clear example of the UK Government’s inconsistent and ineffective approach towards tackling the ‘triple challenge’ of biodiversity loss, climate change and poverty relates to deforestation. Protecting forests is integral to all aspects of the triple challenge: deforestation threatens biodiversity as natural habitats are torn down in favour of monocultures such as palm oil plantations. Deforestation also results in the loss of natural carbon sinks as forests absorb and store carbon. Finally, there is a human cost – industrial agriculture introduces disease into local communities and exacerbates rural poverty amongst communities who are deeply embedded in diverse agroforestry systems which are subsequently torn down for palm oil, timber or cattle grazing. Despite the government committing to establishing the UK Roundtable on Sustainable Soya and signing the Amsterdam Declaration, it has yet to adequately address the fact that products of irresponsible, unsustainable deforestation are deeply embedded in UK supply chains - recent research by WWF and RSPB revealed that a total overseas area equivalent to 88% of the UK landmass was required between 2016 and 2018 to supply the UK’s demand for just seven key commodities including beef, cocoa and palm oil. Destruction of other ecosystems, such as loss of mangroves for shrimp production or conversion of wild grasslands, also undermines communities’ and countries’ resilience to climate impacts.
2020 had been touted as a ‘super year for nature’ because of the major climate, biodiversity and ocean conferences scheduled. The Convention on Biological Diversity’s COP15 is a particularly pivotal moment where new global targets to reverse biodiversity loss by 2030 will be set, requiring strong political will. Similarly, the UK-hosted COP26 of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change represents a unique opportunity for us to show true global leadership with bold strategies to tackle the climate crisis. These events have now been delayed until 2021, but it remains the case that they provide a unique opportunity to move forward into the future we want. Commitments made via the UNFCCC, CBD and SDG processes have the potential to trigger a cascade of actions that mutually reinforce each other, enabling a genuine global reset.
In the run-up to these conferences, there is still much the government can do to address climate change, biodiversity loss and poverty holistically and, recognising that we have a significant global footprint, to match our international environmental and development commitments to our domestic ones. In particular, as the government develops public spending strategies to support post-Covid recovery, there is a real opportunity to align investment with our climate and environmental goals to build a more resilient and sustainable economy with a reduced risk of future shocks, and to support others in their sustainable development. At the same time, the passing of new Environment, Trade, Fisheries and Agriculture Bills provides numerous opportunities to legislate for ambitious environmental action at home and to reduce the UK’s global footprint.
This unique confluence of moments presents a once-in-a-generation opportunity for the government to establish a successful integrated approach to tackling the triple challenge. The Government’s 25 Year Environment Plan set out commitments to lead global efforts to protect and improve the natural world, driving the international community to adopt higher standards and emphasising the importance of nature’s contribution to people, their health and prosperity, and the links with the SDGs and the Paris Agreement. The present moment provides the perfect opportunity for the Government to demonstrate that it remains committed to the ambitions laid out in that plan.
The remainder of this submission outlines the overarching asks of the People and Nature campaign and suggests means by which the Government could achieve them.
Ask 1 - The UK government should ensure that all UK Aid is nature- and climate-positive, supporting more integrated interventions that improve people’s lives and enhance the natural environment. All aid should be shown to, at a minimum, do no harm to the natural environment, just as we already require it is shown to be good for sustainable development. Some ways that this could be achieved are:
Smart Rules, that set standards for ODA spend, should be updated to require detailed analysis of potential nature and climate impacts of proposed aid programmes, including opportunities to enhance positive impacts on the natural environment as well as mitigate possible risks.
The government should co-develop (with civil society and the private sector) and publish a triple challenge strategy, outlining a comprehensive plan for integrating nature and climate considerations across all domestic and international policy.
The newly formed FCDO, and DEFRA, should commit to maintaining all nature and climate funds (International Climate Finance, Darwin Initiative, Biodiverse Landscapes Fund, Blue Planet Fund) and ensuring they include explicit objectives and selection criteria around protecting nature, tackling poverty and climate change.
Ask 2 – The UK government should stop harmful investments that destroy nature and contribute to climate change such as investments in fossil fuels, deforestation, conversion and exploitation of carbon- and nature-rich ecosystems. While we have made great efforts to phase out coal and plant more trees at home, the UK still invests heavily in unsustainable activities overseas. The UK must comprehensively review all such spending to make sure it is not harming people and nature. Some ways that this could be achieved are:
The government should commit to halving our global footprint in the next decade and eliminating negative environmental and social impacts from the UK’s global supply chains.
The government should commit to ending perverse domestic subsidies by 2021, including for fossil fuels and damaging agricultural and fishing practices.
The UK should align all public financial flows with its biodiversity and climate commitments and set regulatory parameters for private financial flows.
The government should stop all UK funding (including aid and export finance) that is currently directed to fossil fuels, culturally or environmentally damaging agricultural technologies and practices in high biodiversity and/ or sensitive areas, deforestation, and overfishing. All UK Aid and UKEF projects should be aligned with the Paris Agreement, global biodiversity targets and the Sustainable Development Goals.
Ask 3 – the UK government should negotiate an ambitious deal for people and nature at the Convention on Biological Diversity’s COP15 meeting in 2021, that is integrated with the 2030 development agenda and the Paris Agreement. We need to take an international lead – just as we have with climate change – in negotiating a new global deal for people and nature across the international conference events of next year. This means setting new binding goals for metrics such as biodiversity increase and allocating significantly more of our overseas aid money to initiatives that protect and restore nature as a means of poverty prevention and alleviation. Some ways that this could be achieved are:
The UK should lead calls at the UNGA75 Nature Summit this month to declare a planetary emergency and commit to the planetary emergency plan of action.
The UK should lead calls for increased ambition in progressive iterations of the CBD’s post-2020 global biodiversity framework such that the mission statement, goals and implementation mechanism established have the potential for transformative change, while being realistic, relevant and recognising the links between biodiversity loss, climate change and poverty.
The UK should include-nature-based solutions and sustainable development in its Nationally Determined Contribution and call for other parties to the CBD and UNFCCC to do the same, recognising that effective nature-based solutions must be locally appropriate and work for both people and nature.
The UK should develop a National Strategy for SDG Implementation, as part of its commitment to the SDG Decade of Delivery.
The UK should reflect this integrated agenda in all domestic policy-making (for example, through a due diligence obligation and global footprint target in the Environment Bill and enshrinement of high climate and environmental standards in the Trade Bill) and in its actions in all international negotiating fora, and use its influence to encourage other nations to do the same.
Finally, the People and Nature campaign recently published a proposal on how the UK could champion a new ‘Covenant for People and Nature’ at the UNGA biodiversity summit and through to the nature and climate COPs next year, which would be signed by governments as a demonstration of their political commitment to putting people and nature at the heart of their economic recovery and to ensuring that the UNFCCC, CBD and SDGs provide a coherent framework for the entirety of their actions. Our proposal includes the establishment of three broad commitments (see below), under which signatory governments would make specific pledges to establish and implement national policy, legislation and regulation.
 The People and Nature campaign is coordinated by Seahorse Environmental, reporting to the People and Nature Steering Committee: Dr Mike Barrett (WWF), Dr Tom Clements (Wildlife Conservation Society), Jo Elliott (Fauna and Flora international), Graham Gordon (CAFOD), Dr Dilys Roe (International Institute for Environment and Development) and Katherine Kramer (Christian Aid). We are supported by 33 MPs from 5 parliamentary parties.
 Roe, D, Seddon, N, and Elliott, J, (2019) Biodiversity loss is a development issue: a rapid review of evidence. IIED Issue Paper.
 Pettengell, C. (2020) Addressing the Triple Emergency: Poverty, Climate Change and Environmental Degradation. BOND-DEG.
 CBD (2010) Biodiversity, development and poverty alleviation. Recognising the role of biodiversity for human wellbeing.
 OECD (2020) A Comprehensive Overview of Global Biodiversity Finance.
 Buchner et al. (2019) Global Landscape of Climate Finance 2019. Climate Policy Initiative.
 HM Government (2018) A Green Future: Our 25 Year Plan to Improve the Environment.