Countdown to 2030: four lessons from the first month of the United Nations Decade for Ecosystem Restoration
We are one month away from the launch of the United Nations Decade for Ecosystem Restoration, with 119 more months to drive transformational change to address the climate and ecological emergency – an emergency that had been highlighted by the waves. heat and the fires raging in Britain. Colombia and Siberia.
I have spent the past four weeks familiarizing myself with my new job as BirdLife’s Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia. Although I still work from the same kitchen table as when I was at RSPB, thanks to the technology I have been able to connect with my new colleagues from all over the world while “meeting” many partners from all over the region. . It was inspiring to hear what they are accomplishing (such as a moratorium on dove hunting in Spain, the fight against illegal killing of birds in the Mediterranean or the restoration of forests and grasslands in the Iori Valley. in Georgia) and exciting to explore what we can achieve together over the next few months.
As world leaders must define a new global plan to restore nature and tackle climate change at United Nations summits later this year, BirdLife itself is refreshing its thinking on how we are having the greatest impact on the world. nature. The region that I now lead will determine its contribution to the global effort over the coming months.
In this article, I reflect on recent developments and draw some key messages for BirdLife and other conservation organizations.
First, we must continue to fight against unsustainable exploitation of the natural world.
The recent victory of the French partner of BirdLife LPO is a reminder that while we want and must invest efforts in restoration, we still have to fight to stop the ongoing exploitation of the natural world – even some practices that should have been banned for fifty years. years. since. Last week, the High Court of France confirmed that the use of glue sticks (lime) to hunt birds should be permanently banned in France. This follows a ruling by the European Court of Justice which upheld its previous ruling against Spain and Malta that the practice was illegal under the EU Birds Directive. Everyone involved in the fight deserves immense credit and this should give enormous impetus to their attempts to end unsustainable hunting practices. It seems crazy that we still have to invest campaign efforts to achieve these victories in the 21st century, but we have to fight. As recently as last week, it was confirmed that the massive culling of griffon vultures in the Salamanca region of Spain was carried out with poison bait (carbofuran).
Second, we must claim the truth about what the new commitments politicians are making in practice mean.
The G7 appeared to be saying the right things when they met in Cornwall earlier this month pledging to ‘protect our planet by supporting a green revolution that creates jobs, cuts emissions and seeks to limit pollution. global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees. We commit to achieving net zero by 2050 at the latest, halving our collective emissions over the two decades to 2030, increasing and improving climate finance until 2025; and conserve or protect at least 30% of our lands and oceans by 2030. ”
We need to make it clear that when politicians commit to ‘protect or conserve 30% of the land and seas’ then they need to care about the wildlife in those areas and they need to be honest about the magnitude of the effort required for this. decade.
Currently only around 11% of the EU’s seas are protected (8% in Natura 2000 sites and 3% under additional national protection) and less than 1% are under strict protection. A 2019 study found that only 1.8% of the EU’s marine area is covered by MPAs with a management plan in place, and among those areas covered by management plans, only a small proportion has put in place effective management measures to ensure adequate protection. Therefore, the vast majority of MPAs in the EU are not covered by a management plan and can be considered as paper parks that offer little real protection.
The situation on earth is similar. While at the RSPB I would point out to politicians that although around 28% of UK land could be in some form of designated area and the 30% commitment was welcome, using the own numbers government, only 5% of land in the UK is currently protected and well managed for nature. The 30% target would therefore require a six-fold improvement this decade.
This story is reflected throughout Europe and parts of Central Asia. Within the EU, protected areas cover 26% of the EU territory (18% designated as Natura 2000 sites and 8% as other national designations). Coverage in countries outside the EU but signatories to the Council of Europe’s Bern Convention is 23% (these sites are part of the Emerald Network) *. I do not have figures on the state of these sites, but we do know that at EU level only 15% of habitats are in good condition, which suggests that a radical change in management is needed to within protected areas.
It is obvious that we need a radical change in the protection and management of sites on land and at sea to achieve the 30 by 30 target. But first, we need to make sure that politicians interpret the new commitments. sincerely before taking the necessary measures to ensure the level of protection and management that nature needs.
Third, we must argue that the natural and climate emergency must be tackled together.
This was the message of the recent report of the first collaboration of the two Intergovernmental Groups on Climate Change (IPCC) and Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) through a workshop organized by the governments of the United Kingdom and Norway. Reinforcing what many of us have been saying for more than a decade, the report concludes that narrowly targeted actions to tackle climate change (particularly poorly designed or located tree planting or renewable energy projects) can directly and indirectly harm nature and vice versa, but there are many measures that can make significant positive contributions in both areas. They highlight five areas where solutions exist to deliver benefits for both climate and nature:
- Halt the loss and degradation of carbon-rich and species-rich ecosystems on land and in the ocean, especially forests, wetlands, peatlands, grasslands and savannas
- Restore ecosystems rich in carbon and in species
- Increase sustainable agricultural and forestry practices to improve adaptive capacity to climate change, improve biodiversity, increase carbon storage and reduce emissions.
- Improve and better target conservation actions, coordinated and supported by strong climate adaptation and innovation
- Eliminate subsidies that support local and national activities harmful to biodiversity – such as deforestation, over-fertilization and overfishing
For too long, biodiversity has been seen as a lesser issue in the minds of politicians and even some environmental activists. I hope this report marks a turning point, because the only way to face the emergency is to tackle the problems together.
Fourth, we must speak out against policies that are inconsistent with or undermine political rhetoric on the environment.
The events of the past month have highlighted the tension between the political desire to say the right thing and the harsh reality of formulating a policy to support it. In its new report, the UK government’s independent committee on climate change concluded that the UK will miss climate targets by a “huge margin” without new policies. The UK has set a world-leading goal of setting a new legally binding target to reduce the country’s greenhouse gas emissions by 78% by 2035 from 1990 levels, but it is clear that its environmental credentials can only be improved if they are associated with the right action.
A similar pattern emerged in the European Union where one week the European Parliament voted in favor of a legally binding goal of restoring 30% of the EU’s land and seas while a few weeks later European politicians voted agreed to a deal on the future of agricultural policy which his own auditor service and more than 3,600 scientists condemned. Numerous studies have confirmed that the intensive agriculture promoted by the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is pushing many species towards extinction and the proposed changes will do little to reverse this trend.
Sometimes it feels like governments are driving their environmental agenda with the handbrake, which is quite another thing than acting like we are facing a planetary emergency. Greta Thunberg let’s say it more frankly last week by declaring at the Austrian world summit that,
“Let’s be clear – what you are doing is not about climate action or responding to an emergency. It never has been. These are communication tactics disguised as politics.”
This must change.
As NGOs and voters, we have a responsibility to ensure that governments set the right ambition, to try to influence policies to support it, but we must also be prepared to speak out against policies that are incompatible or undermine that ambition.
So these are my four lessons from last month, to make the United Nations Decade for Ecosystem Restoration a success, civil society organizations must continue to:
- fight against unsustainable exploitation of the natural world
- claim the truth about what the new commitments made by politicians mean in practice
- argue that the natural and climate emergency must be tackled together
- denounce policies that are incompatible with or undermine political rhetoric on the environment.
If you have any ideas on what I have written, it would be great to hear your views by contacting me at @martinBirdLife.
* Interestingly for Brits like me, at the end of 2020 the UK registered all of its Natura 2000 sites as part of the Emerald Network, a reminder that, despite Brexit, they remain of international importance and are anchored in the European law.