The coming year is the “last chance” to bring the world together to tackle climate change to protect communities and nature, the heads of two key environmental bodies have warned.
In an article, Natural England chair Tony Juniper and the Environment Agency’s Emma Howard Boyd have pointed to the recent flooding which saw hundreds of people evacuated from Fishlake, Doncaster, with some still out of their homes.
A report in October on the state of nature in the UK found two-fifths (41 per cent) of the country’s wildlife species had declined over the past 50 years and 13 per cent of the species tracked were threatened with extinction in England.
The warning comes after little progress at UN climate talks in Madrid and ahead of a series of international meetings in 2020, including on protecting nature in China in October and crucial climate talks in Glasgow in November.
“It’s clear that 2020 is our last chance to bring the world together to take decisive action on climate change in order to protect our communities and reverse the alarming loss of wildlife we have witnessed in recent years,” Mr Juniper and Ms Howard Boyd said.
They said the environmental challenges of climate change and nature losses are fundamentally connected to each other.
“Climate change is causing damage to ecosystems, such as the droughts which are wrecking chalk rivers and wetlands, while the degradation of the natural environment, such as deforestation and drainage of peatlands, is leading to the emissions causing climate change,” the two leaders said.
“If we are to adapt to what are now inevitable climatic shifts, including the effects of extreme weather, then restoring the natural environment must be at the heart of our response.”
They said there would be “every opportunity to raise the tempo of action here in the UK” in 2020, with a new environment bill expected to be presented to parliament with provisions for an ambitious national nature recovery network.
The two environmental bodies have plans for large-scale woodland regeneration to store carbon, improve wildlife habitat, clean up rivers and reduce flood risk.
And they said the government’s commitment for a new £640m nature for climate fund in the Conservative election manifesto is one way national efforts could be delivered.
Projects such as the efforts to prevent dozens of species being lost from the UK, or creating and restoring large areas of habitat, are helping adapt to climate change, protect wildlife and capture and store carbon.
But they warned that the ambition to cut greenhouse gases to net zero by 2050 was “only as good as its delivery”.
Alongside policies and initiatives, substantial financial investments in environmental recovery would be vital – including properly resourced government agencies.
“Our government has the opportunity to lift plans for clean, green, healthy and resilient communities at home towards action for the whole world,” Mr Juniper and Ms Howard Boyd said.
“In that programme it will have our full support, for if we walk the talk, we might just persuade others to share our vision.”