The Prime Minister has said that the Government will soon bring forward a new Environment Bill, the first in more than twenty years.
At WWF we were delighted to see our calls for such a step heeded at the highest level. This is not only for what is needed here at home in aiding the recovery of nature but also because of the potential for the UK to show leadership in the face of what is a global crisis.
That crisis has been well documented and is seen in among other things what is now an impending mass extinction of species, with the global picture reflected in UK trends. Take the State of Nature report. This comprehensive 2016 survey of our wildlife found that of the 8,000 species studied some 56 percent had declined over the past 50 years and that one in seven were at risk of disappearing from our shores altogether.
The reasons are well known. They include the huge scale of habitat loss and the rise of ever more intensive agriculture. The manner in which we produce much of our food has not only caused the loss of birds and butterflies but also damaged the soil that is so vital for future food security. Most of our rivers are polluted, not only with farm chemicals but also raw sewage. Many of us breathe polluted air, and we have a serious waste problem too, including the effects of plastic that is escaping into the sea.
These and other factors are behind the startling and troubling fact that the UK is now regarded as one of the most nature depleted countries in the world. For a nation with such strong public backing for environmental causes, this seems not to match our palpable national appetite to live in a green and pleasant land. The decline of our wildlife also leaves us as diminished advocates for environmental causes on the global stage, in protecting endangered wildlife, conserving tropical rainforests and safeguarding the coral reefs.
This is one more reason why a new Environment Act is so important, for without credentials based on taking action ourselves, our ability to inspire the global-scale ambition that is so desperately needed will be considerably weakened.
In 2020 governments will come together to agree on a series of new commitments, under among other things the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, setting out what must be hoped will be a new global accord for the recovery of nature. That global deal will only be as good as the countries that negotiate it though. And this is why British leadership could be so important, as it was when the Paris Agreement on Climate Change was adopted in 2015. Back then the UK was seen by many as one of the countries that set the tone for the talks, having taken the step in 2008 of adopting its Climate Change Act, and with that legally binding science-based targets for emissions reductions. As the world slides toward a mass extinction of wildlife, such leadership is needed again now, to show what is possible when science, policy and inspirational leadership come together.
This will require real vision and an outstanding idea that cuts through to the core of the problem. Fortunately, there is a good reason to believe the UK could show that. Earlier this year the Prime Minister launched the Government’s 25 Year Environment Plan, with the headline goal of leaving nature in better shape than we inherited it. This is a truly transformative idea, and if enshrined in law, like the Climate Change Act, could set the tone for what is needed across the world. We all depend on nature and what is needed now are new agreements that go beyond slowing down the decline of nature to putting into place laws and policies to reverse that decline.
We are the first generation to know the scale of human impacts on the world that sustains us and the last in a position to take the actions needed to avoid the disastrous consequences of continuing environmental decline. As we approach 2020, the stakes are increasingly high. If you believe we should show leadership in the adoption of a strong Environment Act, then please do join us in our campaign.