By Marcus Yeo
The start of a new year brings with it the promise of hope and new beginnings, though it may not feel much like it as we approach the end of a cold and dark January, still stuck in the middle of a global pandemic and uncertain when it will end, or even when the days will start to feel a little warmer. However, despite the gloom, 2021 really does promise to be a year of opportunity for nature conservation and the natural environment, both within the UK and globally.
Two major international meetings of multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs) will be held in 2021 (both postponed from 2020). These events will set the global environmental agenda for many years to come.
The 15th Conference of the Parties (CoP 15) to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) is scheduled to take place in China in 2021. Ten years on from publication of the CBD’s ambitious Strategic plan for biodiversity (2011–2020) and the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, countries from around the world will agree a new post-2020 global biodiversity framework, containing targets for the next decade designed to protect and enhance our precious natural environment for future generations.
Towards the end of the year, the UK is will host the 26th Conference of the Parties (CoP 26) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). CoP 26 will be held in Glasgow. During the event, the UK (in partnership with Italy), will assume the presidency, taking over from CoP 25 President Chile. Holding the presidency will give the UK the opportunity to inspire others into ambitious action to meet targets designed to halt global temperature rise.
Of paramount importance in these meetings is the recognition of the inter-relationship between biodiversity loss and climate change – the 'twin crises', as they have been termed – each one being exacerbated by the other. But also, on the flip side, is the growing understanding of how tackling one crisis can also help tackle the other, and in particular the role that nature can play in mitigating and adapting to climate change, in part through nature-based solutions. For example, habitat restoration, such as enhancing degraded peatland or regenerating woodland, increases CO2 removal from the atmosphere and therefore reduces greenhouse gas emissions. Conserving and protecting the natural environment is therefore a win-win situation, and that’s before we even consider the additional beneficial effects the natural environment has, for example on people’s mental health and well-being.
Since its inception, JNCC has had a role in advising on the negotiation and implementation of MEAs, and we will play an important part in preparing for, and participating in, the two major international events in 2021 by providing robust scientific evidence and advice to UK and devolved governments. Our input will demonstrate the multiple economic and social benefits provided by the environment.
Domestically, 2021 will also bring major changes. Since the beginning of this year, the UK has been starting to adjust to not being part of the European Union, following the UK’s exit from the EU on 31 January 2020 and the end of the Transition Period on 30 December 2020. Over the course of the next few years, each of the four nations in the UK will develop new policies and approaches, which will cover, amongst other things, land use, fisheries and environmental protection. We at JNCC will be supporting the work of each government, working closely with the country nature conservation bodies. We will help them to co-ordinate their activities at a UK level where appropriate, for example in relation to commitments from multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs). A specific focus in 2021 will be to support each government as they develop plans to implement the outcomes of CBD COP 15.
The year 2021 will be extremely busy for those involved in environmental work, and presents opportunities for us all, as individuals and as members of relevant organisations, to step up and make a difference. I can’t wait to see how different things will look in 2022.
(Image © Pixabay)