COP26: Baby steps forward, when giant leaps were needed

COP26: Baby steps forward, when giant leaps were needed

Peatland (C) Mark Hamblin

On Saturday 13 November, a deal was agreed at COP26. Although baby steps were made, they fell short of the giant leaps forward that were needed. Global ambition must now unite.
All of our amazing habitats in Staffordshire store carbon – from the Staffordshire Moorlands, to our woodlands and grasslands. If we can protect and restore these extraordinary landscapes, we can help in the battle against climate change.
Julian Woolford, Chief Executive
Staffordshire Wildlife Trust

As COP26 has closed in Glasgow, The Wildlife Trusts believe that:

  • The UK Government must increase ambition and speed-up carbon reduction
  • The aim to ‘keep 1.5° alive’ must be coupled with a local-to-global ‘30 by 30’ nature target. It’s time to get serious about putting nature in recovery across 30 per cent of the UK’s land and sea by 2030 to tackle the twin climate and nature crises
  • The agricultural reform currently underway in the UK must work for the climate and nature
  • Net Zero is not the destination, merely a waymark point. We should restore nature right now to draw carbon down from the atmosphere, and help repair the climate.

Craig Bennett, Chief Executive of The Wildlife Trusts, says:

“If soaring rhetoric was enough to save the climate and nature, all would be fine. But the gulf between rhetoric and reality these last two weeks in Glasgow has been one of life and death, both for entire ecosystems such as tropical rainforests and coral reefs, and for the communities that depend on them.

“We’ve seen some baby steps forward, when giant leaps were needed. The focus on ‘keeping 1.5° alive’ has been welcome, as has the greater recognition of the role that nature can play in helping us tackle the climate crisis. But to deliver this, we need to build a renewed momentum to cut carbon emissions deeper and faster, and we need the world to adopt a local-to-global ’30 by 30’ target for nature at the UN Convention on Biodiversity Diversity meeting taking place in China next spring, so that nature can be put into recovery across 30 per cent of land and sea by the end of the decade.”

Julian Woolford, Staffordshire Wildlife Trust Chief Executive, says:

“COP26 has bought the climate crisis to the forefront of people’s minds, but importantly it has also enabled The Wildlife Trusts to highlight how intrinsically it’s linked to the nature emergency. Climate is impacting our species and habitats already, but nature can also play a part in our battle against climate change.

“All of our amazing habitats in Staffordshire store carbon – from the Staffordshire Moorlands, to our woodlands and grasslands. If we can protect and restore these extraordinary landscapes, we can help in the battle against climate change.

“Nature can also play a role in helping us adapt to climate change through nature-based solutions such as natural flood management. For example, by rewetting our moors, installing leaky dams, and naturalising our rivers, we can slow the flow of water coming downstream and reduce the impact of increased rainfall and flooding in our county.

“Our work is far reaching beyond our nature reserves. By working together with farmers, other conservation organisations and landowners, we can introduce nature-based solutions at the scale needed to ensure Staffordshire is united in tackling the nature emergency.”

The Wildlife Trusts have joined forces and identified five areas for the UK to progress:

  1. Making all agriculture and fishing nature and climate-friendly

Farmland covers 71% of land in the UK and the agriculture sector accounts for 10% of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions. It is essential the agricultural sector plays a prominent role in securing nature and climate recovery. Government must support and incentivise land managers to improve biodiversity and ecosystems services through England's new Environmental Land Management (ELM) schemes. It is crucial that ELM schemes do not simply pay farmers to continue with business as usual – nature-friendly practices must be adopted.

  1. Protecting and restoring peatlands

The UK must protect its peatlands, which are by far the country’s largest natural carbon sink – yet currently many peatlands are so damaged that they are emitting carbon, not storing it. The Government must commit to restoring all upland peatlands by 2050, and at least a quarter of lowland peatlands by 2050, with the remainder of lowland peatlands brought into sustainable management.

  1. Developing clean technologies that support nature

If done badly, building multiple offshore wind farms across huge swathes of our seas will damage our marine ecosystems. We need to see a much greater effort and investment being put into energy efficiency and energy saving, and renewable energy must be deployed in a way that helps restore nature. It should be innovative, diverse, and avoid over-reliance on any one technology.

  1. Greater protections for marine habitats

We need to map blue carbon stores and ensure we protect these, using strategic marine spatial planning that protects carbon stores and nature 30% of our seas must be designated as Highly Protected Marine Areas and there must be greater protection for our wider seas, with sustainable fishing policies and strategic marine spatial planning.

  1. A planning system that puts nature first

We need the planning system to help address the climate and nature crises. A new Wildbelt designation in England would ensure that we go beyond protecting the nature we have now, to protecting the space nature needs for the future.