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By Professor Colin Galbraith FRSE

As COP15 draws to a close, our Chair, Professor Colin Galbraith, reflects on the importance of the last few weeks for nature conservation and recovery.

The last few weeks have been an incredibly important time for nature conservation and recovery across the UK and internationally. Importantly, on 23 November the statutory nature conservation agencies across the UK launched a joint statement on nature recovery: Nature Recovery for Our Survival, Prosperity and Wellbeing.

This Statement explains why nature is so important to us all and that it has a key role in helping to reduce the impact of climate change, underpin our economy, and sustain our wellbeing. This is the first time that the UK Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC), Natural England, Council for Nature Conservation and the Countryside (NI), NI Environment Agency, NatureScot, and Natural Resources Wales have addressed the nature crisis in this way. 

So why launch the statement now?

We launched the Statement to coincide with the key global conference on biodiversity – the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) Conference of the Parties (COP15), being held this week in Montreal, Canada. 196 countries plus the EU are Parties to CBD, aiming to agree a new Global Biodiversity Framework that will drive the recovery of nature over the decade. 

Importantly, one of the key messages from the Statement is that it is not too late to take action to help nature recover, provided we act now. With the challenges currently facing us all, there has never been a more critical or opportune time to invest in nature’s recovery, to tackle climate change and to do this in a way that engages and encourages governments, communities, and industries around the world to take action.

Getting a successful outcome from the COP is important and it will provide a framework and targets for nature conservation and recovery until 2030 with longer-term targets to 2050. Meetings such as this necessarily always focus on negotiating the detailed wording of any agreement text and this can seem to be, and is, a slow and laborious process, however, this really matters and getting an agreement that leads to real action is key. History shows that when an international agreement is ambitious, realistic, inclusive and addresses the real priorities for action then it can be effective.

For me, the three key outcomes that we need from COP15 are:

  • Firstly, that a clear framework and targets for nature recovery by 2030 are agreed.
  • Secondly, that the link between nature recovery and reducing the impact of climate change are stressed and actions identified that are “high nature, low carbon,” so that collective action can begin now.
  • Thirdly, that there is wider recognition that nature recovery is essential for our wellbeing and that action to protect nature that was once seen to be an optional add-on, is actually part of our essential life support system giving us clean air, clean water and food and many other essential ecosystem services.

All of this does, of course, have to be funded, and we do need to recognise that in the current global financial situation that hard priorities will need to be made, however, we know that we depend on nature and that nature depends on us – so COP15 needs to be successful.

JNCC is playing a significant role at the COP, led by Vin Fleming and Willow Outhwaite, as part of the official UK delegation, providing expert advice to Defra on key negotiations on a range of Targets, especially Targets 5, 9, One Health and Target 17, as well as on indicators and the monitoring framework. We have been contributing to agenda items on biodiversity and health, biodiversity and agriculture, invasive alien species, sustainable wildlife management, risk management of living modified organisms and synthetic biology.

Photo: Some of the JNCC delegation at COP15.

JNCC co-hosted a well-attended technical side event on Target 3 – 30by30 – where Gemma Singleton showcased our work on the development of an indicator of management effectiveness of protected and conserved areas (MEPCA).

The team, including Danny Heptinstall and Gemma Harper, has participated in a range of key activities, from discussions on the role of science at the negotiations, to Target 5 – considering sustainable use of wild species for people, nature and positive health outcomes, to cross-cutting issues on financing the Global Biodiversity Framework, including participating in an Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities-led nature finance roundtable and Ministerial session on mobilising private finance.

As the COP draws to an end, we have been reconnecting with the Consortium of Scientific Partners and the Global Partnership of Biodiversity Agencies to strengthen our international collaboration and showcasing our Global Impacts Indicator at the nature-positive trade for sustainable development 2030 side event.

It has been encouraging to see a strong network of youth representation at the conference; the actors of tomorrow making clear they are already part of the action today. Our own Maddie Harris was interviewed by an academic from the UN University about her work on the Global Impacts Indicator as part of a video giving examples of young people making positive contributions to both biodiversity and climate. We look forward to seeing it come out in the New Year. And we look forward to seeing if our Global Impacts Indicator is adopted by CBD as part of the monitoring framework.

During COP15, a reduced set of UK Biodiversity Indicators was published by JNCC and Defra, whilst the full set will be reviewed in light of the outcome of COP15. These indicators, which are designated as a National Statistic Compendium, are critical to robust and transparent reporting of progress against international goals and targets.

Once the discussions and negotiations at COP are completed, the hard work to implement the new agreement will begin. Here again I know that JNCC will have a key role in translating global priorities for nature conservation and recovery into national action. Importantly, our work covers the UK, Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies, and working with partners in all these areas gives JNCC a great opportunity to make a real difference for nature.

One key area for us is to use our considerable expertise, data, and information to measure future changes, hopefully improvements, in the state of nature. We are well placed to do this and our new strategy to be launched early next year will have this as one of the key objectives for the organisation. This is important, as it will be necessary to track progress towards the new targets for 2030 in detail over the intervening period, so that actions can be fine-tuned, year by year.

I am really looking forward to seeing the outcomes from COP15. JNCC stands ready to support institutions across the UK in delivering a low carbon high nature future and I encourage everyone to now play a part in helping nature recover over the coming years.

Professor Colin Galbraith FRSE

Find out more our role in COP15 on our COP15 webpage.

Image courtesy of Steve D (Shutterstock)

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