The Prime Minister must rewild his 10 point plan to tackle climate change

Lucy Pegg, Public Affairs Officer for The Wildlife Trusts, reviews this week’s government commitment to a 10 point plan to tackle climate change and says we must do much more to let nature help…

On 18th November, Boris Johnson set out the long-awaited ten-point plan for tackling the climate emergency and building a greener economy in the UK. We at The Wildlife Trusts welcome the Prime Minister’s investment in the environment but believe that the government must go much, much further in making nature central to tackling climate change if we’re to look after the planet for future generations.

Defra has confirmed that the 10 point plan includes £40 million of new funding, bringing the Green Recovery Challenge Fund total to £80m. With the Government’s initial fund oversubscribed by almost ten times, we know the environmental sector is ready to put this money to good use on vital projects that will restore nature which, in turn, will lock-up carbon, fuel a green economy and fund green jobs.

The ban on new petrol and diesel cars by 2030 shows real global leadership and it is great to see the need for energy efficient homes, school and hospitals fully recognised. But it’s hard to reconcile this with the continued, reckless destruction of habitats that the Government’s £27 billion road-building programme will cause, destroying the very habitats that should be helping to reverse wildlife declines and storing carbon. Wild places – peatbogs, saltmarshes and naturally regenerated land – store carbon; concreted-over landscapes don’t.

With nearly half of all species in steep decline in the UK, the Government must realise the colossal scale of the task ahead. Boris Johnson needs to listen to calls for an additional £1 billion investment per annum, year on year, to be included in the upcoming Comprehensive Spending Review. The UK cannot create a stronger and greener economy without nourishing and reviving the natural environments this depends upon – which means doing a lot more than just planting trees.

At present, the Government seems to believe that there is more land protected for nature than is the case. National Parks and AONBs are not wildlife designations. Our Sites of Special Scientific Interest are supposed to be protected for nature, but around half of these are in a poor state, neglected or threatened by new developments such as Sizewell C.

This means less than 5% of land is actually protected and in a good state for nature. To reach 30% by 2030, we need to rescue the wildlife sites currently in decline, while also making much more space for nature. We need a new Wild Belt land designation that sets aside land for putting nature into recovery. To truly tackle climate change we need to see billion pound investment in a whole range of habitat recovery projects from natural regeneration of land to mending carbon sequestering peatlands.

Unfortunately, the Government’s investment in the environment is also undermined by its continued subsidy of, and investment in fossil fuels (for example, no tax on aviation fuel, tax breaks for oil and gas exploration in the North Sea and tax breaks on red diesel used in agriculture) and determination to press on with extremely damaging activities that destroy the wild places we need to reverse wildlife declines and lock up carbon. In addition to the road building programme which will only encourage more vehicles onto our roads, these include ill-thought through commitments to new nuclear power stations such as Sizewell C on the wild Suffolk coast. Construction of this vast site will bury nationally important wildlife habitats beneath concrete and construction will result in increased carbon emissions before 2040 when we need to be cutting those emissions right now.

Even the magic bullet of offshore wind isn’t quite the knight in shining armour we’d like to believe it is.  When sited in the wrong places it can prove devastating to marine ecosystems – habitats which are critical for tackling climate change without coordinated plans and action to mitigate impacts.

The government must take further action to avoid sabotaging all of our hopes of a green industrial revolution and begin by letting nature help solve the climate crisis.

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