COP15 – Now is the time to act for nature

The UN Climate Conference COP27 negotiations have come to a close, and attentions now turn to the nature-focussed COP15 in Montreal where world leaders are gathering to discuss and agree the urgent action needed to turn the tide on global biodiversity loss.

In this decisive decade of action, Chair of Natural Resources Wales (NRW) Sir David Henshaw underlines how the world must change course now to halt nature’s decline and climate-proof our planet and that there has never been a more critical or opportune time to invest in nature’s recovery.

Nature is the web of life that connects all our lives - an infinite network where everyone and every living thing depends on others to survive. It is the beating heart that supports every facet of our modern life - from our health and wellbeing, the food that we eat, to the prosperity for ourselves and our societies.

Yet nature’s heartbeat is weakening. Human activity is pushing nature towards collapse, and the songs and sounds that provide the soundtrack to our biodiversity and our ecosystems are fading fast.

When biodiversity is in decline, not only do we threaten our wildlife, but we also threaten our food and water supplies, our health, our jobs, our economy and our sense of place.

The evidence clearly shows that the nature and climate emergencies are inextricably linked, we address both or we address neither. 

Now is the time to change course, to stop the damage and start the repair process to ensure we can adapt to the accelerating shocks ahead.  A healthy and secure planet for us and future generations relies on nature and ecosystems that are resilient and able to accommodate the impacts of a changing climate.

 The nature and climate challenges

This is the challenge that needs to be heeded by leaders and decision-makers around the world as they gather for the UN Biodiversity Conference (COP15) this month.

It is here that the solutions to the global biodiversity crisis have to be agreed. The framework for that already exists: the international Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), which has committed all its signatories to protect our natural diversity, and to enhance it wherever possible. Over 90 Heads of State and Government from around the world have also endorsed the Leaders’ Pledge for Nature, representing an ambitious agenda for transforming how humankind protects, values and uses nature. 

At COP15, a new set of ambitious goals have to be agreed for the next decade, and how these can be supported along with strong monitoring on the ground to measure progress on reversing nature loss. Delaying action is simply not an option.

This was the message that underpinned the call to action in the joint statement by all UK nature agencies last month which underlined that we must speed up and expand our ambition to achieve the UK’s commitment to halt species decline, and to restore nature and tackle climate change together.

The positive role Wales is already playing in realising these ambitions will be highlighted at COP15 by the Climate Change Minister, Julie James MS, who will be showing how the decisive steps we are taking here are already securing environmental improvements for the benefit of current and future generations.

Becoming Nature Positive in Wales

The word restore is defined as returning something back to its original state. It is a word that embodies how we’re delivering our work across Wales’ communities and the special places that we manage.

From delivering ambitious peatland restoration projects through to enhancing the carbon-holding potential of our seas, NRW’s natural, cost-effective approaches are helping to tackle some of the biggest environmental, societal and economic challenges, and are demonstrating how building resilience into our natural resources and ecosystems can help mitigate the impacts of climate change.

And it doesn’t stop there.  

Over the summer, Wales’ Climate Minister led a Biodiversity ‘Deep Dive’ with key experts and practitioners - including NRW. The focus was on action to protect and effectively manage at least 30% of our land, freshwater and sea for nature by 2030 (30 by 30).

The recommendations were published in October and include objectives to transform our protected sites portfolio so that it is better, bigger, and more effectively connected. They include ambitions to increase the footprint of our marine protected areas network, to ensure land and marine planning decisions consider biodiversity, and support the ambition to rapidly accelerate Wales’ peatland restoration targets.  Building a strong delivery foundation is also essential through capacity building and unlocking public and private finance to deliver for nature at far greater scale and pace.

NRW has a critical role in making sure the recommendations of the Deep Dive are urgently turned in action to recover and build a nature positive Wales.

Alongside this, we are also running a national initiative, Natur a Ni / Nature and Us, to hear what the people of Wales have to say about the future of Wales’ natural environment so that we can not only hear their voices, but can harness their energy for action.

Through our own projects and campaigns, and as evidenced in the jointly produced Nature Positive 2030 Report, we have shown that nature can indeed be restored, that it is affordable, and that doing so can make a critical contribution to the response to climate change too.

As one of the requirements of the Environment Act, NRW publishes a report on the state of our Natural Resources in Wales (SoNaRR). The report focusses on the quality of our rivers and seas, the air that we breathe, the value of our soil and forests and the richness of plants, animals and insects.  

Wales is the only country in Europe that does this environmental stock-take, and it provides powerful evidence to guide our future path. 

Yet while there is real hope and evidence that reversing biodiversity decline is possible, species extinction is forever.

According to the State of Nature 2019 report, wildlife in Wales continues to decline, with the latest findings showing that 17% of species in Wales are at risk of extinction.

So, while our expert teams are working hard to scale up our efforts to keep carbon locked up in peat deposits and increasing Wales’ green canopy, we’re also restoring and improving habitats for our native species, and working to increase the population of some of our most threatened species, including the curlew, salmon and sea trout, the native oyster, marsh fritillary butterfly, shrill carder bee and red squirrel.

The Welsh Government’s Nature Networks programme is enabling us to design and deliver projects that can improve the condition and connectivity of our protected sites creating resilient ecological networks which will allow our most endangered habitats and species to thrive

The Natur am Byth partnership is also helping to protect our most endangered wildlife. It unites nine environmental charities with NRW to deliver the country’s largest natural heritage and outreach programme to save species from extinction and reconnect people to nature.

Our future generations

While the act of ‘restoring’ means returning something to its original state, it is also the act of returning something back to its owners.

Right now, we are all holding nature in trust for future generations, to ensure they too have the resilient life support system they will need to nurture, and protect them against any future challenges they may face.

The Well-being of Future Generations and Environment Acts provide us with the building blocks to do that, and NRW’s new corporate plan, which we will launch next year, will also demonstrate how tackling the climate and nature emergencies will be embedded in all the work we do to protect and enhance our natural environment over the remainder of this decisive decade.

The challenge may be great, but it is one that can only be addressed by us – by all of us.

Team Wales

Just like the interdependent species that make up our natural resources, we humans are deeply dependent on one another to survive and to succeed.

Through a ‘Team Wales’ approach, we need to continue working across government, business and society to build on the delivery mechanisms we’re already putting in place and which show our determination to overcome the challenges and create a nature-rich nation for future generations.

But we must also enable others across all sectors and institutions to harness their own capacity and embed pro-nature thinking and delivery to support nature’s recovery.

Only that way can we deliver the huge portfolio of nature-based solutions we so desperately need to tip the balance in favour of nature, start the repair process and save our life support system.

COP15 must be the moment where every country and every part of society embraces their responsibility to support biodiversity and protect our planet. We know what we need to do and how to do it. Delay is not an option. The time to act is now.

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