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Tuesday, Mar 09, 2021

To have any chance of saving the Earth, we must start living within its limits

Watching the David Attenborough documentary, Extinction: The Facts, on Sunday night, I felt a swell of sadness, frustration and anger.
Sadness at what we are doing to the millions of species that share this planet with us; frustration that so many warnings over the years have been ignored, and anger at our failure to do what’s necessary to protect habitats and ecosystems.

Looking at the responses on social media, I know many of you felt the same way.

Those ministers who condemned Extinction Rebellion protesters last week, comparing them to organised criminal gangs, should reflect: this is what Extinction Rebellion are drawing attention to, and demanding the Government take action.

So what has been done? In 2010, the coalition government’s Biodiversity 2020 strategy pledged to ‘halt biodiversity loss, support ecosystems and establish coherent ecological networks, with more and better places for nature’.

The outcome? Despite Government claims that budgets have increased, funding for wildlife and the environment has been cut by nearly a third leaving most ecosystems unprotected.

More than 40% of species in the UK are in decline – 10% face extinction. In a rare moment of honesty, the Government admitted that of 20 biodiversity targets the UK agreed at the UN Convention on Biological Diversity 10 years ago, we have missed 14 of them.

The reality is probably worse: the RSPB believe we have missed 17 of the targets, and have even gone backwards on six. They’ve rightly called the past 10 years a ‘lost decade for nature’.

This is a massive failure of our Government to protect our environment and I see no sign that it has either grasped the scale of the crisis or is preparing to take the necessary steps to tackle it.

A statement released by the Department of the Environment (Defra) in response to the RSPB report instead trotted out the usual empty boasts about the UK ‘leading the world by setting ambitious goals for nature and biodiversity in our landmark Environment Bill’.

If this bill is supposed to protect nature in our country, then we really are in trouble, because I believe it actually takes us backwards by weakening the environmental protections we’ve had up to now as members of the EU.

The environmental watchdog that the Government plans to establish is toothless, being neither independent, nor with the powers to levy fines.

The timeline for environmental targets is nearly two decades, by which time – at the current rate of decline – one wonders how much wildlife will be left to protect.

Add to the mix the Government’s bonfire of planning regulations, which are as good as an invitation for developers to concrete over huge areas with local councils powerless to stop them, and nature looks at greater risk now than it has ever been.

Yet we know that it is valued more than ever, with huge majorities saying access to green space has been good for their mental health and wellbeing during Covid. In the final report of the UK Climate Assembly released last week, one of the key recommendations was the protection and restoration of nature and improving access.

It’s not only essential for our well-being: protected peatlands, forests and soils have a vital role to play in tackling climate change, which is why restoring and regenerating ecosystems is a key part of the Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill which I introduced in Parliament earlier this month.

But if we are to protect our environment, we need to go further and end the relentless pursuit of economic growth and our culture of mass consumption.

The wellbeing of people and nature should be the focus of our national effort. We must start to live within Earth’s natural limits. The point was made well in Extinction: The Facts.

The burning of the rainforest, or destruction of savannah for agriculture, is done to meet global demand for beef, soya, palm oil or other consumer products.

We are fuelling this destruction with what we choose to buy and how we choose to live. As David Attenborough said: ‘We are at a turning point. What happens next is up to every one of us.’

Quote of the Day

Did you hear that we're writing Iraq's new Constitution?
Why not just give them ours? We're not using it anymore.

Jay Leno
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