The importance of reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 has been and continues to be highlighted by many of the world’s governments and corporations in the past few years. The intrinsic need for nature-centric solutions to achieve this greener future has, however, been largely overlooked – until now. This week’s ‘net zero’ for nature announcement by the UK government and its proposed pathway to become a global leader in halting the destruction of biodiversity is a much-needed development to protect our planet. Climate action and the enhancement and protection of nature must go hand in hand, and we fully support the 2030 biodiversity targets as a critical milestone towards a low carbon future.
There is much to do. In the 2019 IPBES report on biodiversity, scientists reported that, on average, 25% of animal and plant species are threatened, meaning that 1 million species face extinction within the next few decades, unless serious action is taken to reduce the factors which drive the loss of biodiversity.
Our environment and the natural life which resides within it is crucial to human wellbeing, and preserving nature has direct links to the preservation of lives and livelihoods that could be lost as a result of the climate crisis. As such, the amendments to the UK’s Environmental Bill on the 26th May have come at a critical time. The changes to the Bill make the restoration of the UK’s nature and biodiversity a priority, as the government seeks to build back greener after the pandemic, using the UK’s COP26 and G7 presidencies to take a leading role on driving a global green recovery on the world stage.
The amendments to the Bill will also now mean that there is a new, landmark, legally binding target on species abundance for 2030, with the aim to halt the decline of nature in England by decreasing habitat loss and species decline.
This ‘net-zero’ for nature is formed through various measures that will now be taken to drive action to improve the environment and promote biodiversity net gains. An ‘English Peat Action Plan’ has been put in place to sustainably manage the UK’s peatlands, with the aim to restore at least 35,000 ha of peatland by 2025 by investing £50 million through the Nature for Climate fund and phasing out the most damaging practices to our peatland. A ‘Trees Action Plan’ will also be put in place to expand the UK’s woodlands, aiming for 12% coverage of UK land in woodlands by 2050 with over £500 million of the Nature for Climate Fund dedicated to trees. The Bill has also introduced species reintroduction measures to help the return of species such as wildcats and beavers to the countryside.
As businesses we must also minimise our impact and promote biodiversity net gains where possible. At Low Carbon we are proud to be the industry collaborator of the Energy and Environment research team at Lancaster University, working to ensure our clean energy sites support local nature recovery. One important output of our collaboration with this team is the Solar Park Impacts on Ecosystem Services (SPIES) tool, which is the result of collaborative research between Lancaster University, University of York, the solar industry, the farming community, and nature conservation bodies. This tool puts biodiversity at the heart of our renewable energy sites, as it is an easy-to-use online resource that can inform management actions on and around solar parks and provides users with a scientific basis for comparing the biodiversity and ecosystem service impacts of alternative management decisions on solar parks. Crucially, the tool helps to ensure that solar parks across the UK are optimally managed to maximise ecosystem services and natural capital.
Another initiative we have undertaken at Low Carbon is our partnership with Plan Bee Ltd. to help conserve the honeybee population. At five of our solar park sites across Cornwall, Devon and Suffolk we have introduced twenty-five hives which house over 2 million bees. By carefully managing the hives and helping the bees to thrive, we are able to support greater biodiversity as the bees pollinate the local flora, which in turn supports the local ecosystem.
Not only is it the right thing to do, but nature recovery also makes economic sense. According to the UN Global Compact, solutions which focus on nature could provide over a third of the cost-effective climate mitigation to stabilise average temperature rise below 2C. It is clear that the time to protect biodiversity is now. This is central to effective climate action, and we are proud to play our part to tackle the threats to the natural world alongside our work towards a carbon-free future.