‘Rhetoric won’t cut it’: Environment secretary’s call for action on nature falls flat

Environment secretary Thérèse Coffey has announced a new package of support to meet nature targets ahead of the UN biodiversity summit next month, but some have described the message as “inconsistent” with recent “attacks on nature”.

The government support, announced at COP27, includes a pledge of £30 million to a new public-private fund Big Nature Impact Fund, which claims to invest in nature protection and restoration through projects such as carbon capture and is managed by Federated Hermes and Finance Earth in partnership with DEFRA.

Coffey also pledged an additional £12 million to the Ocean Risk and Resilience Action Alliance, which aims to protect vulnerable coastal communities and habitats. She also committed £6 million in climate finance for developing countries to protect biodiversity as per the Paris Agreement, through the UNDP Climate Promise, among other measures.

Coffey said: “Over half of the world’s GDP [is] reliant on nature, which is why the United Kingdom put nature at the heart of our COP26 Presidency and led calls to protect 30 per cent of land and ocean by 2030.

“We continue to demonstrate international leadership through commitments to create a natural world that is richer in plants and wildlife to tackle the climate crisis, and at next month’s meeting of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity we will strive for an ambitious agreement that includes a global 30x30 target, a commitment to halt and reverse biodiversity loss, and an increase in resources for the conservation and protection of nature from all sources.”

The government acknowledged that there is a $700 billion annual global funding gap that needs to be bridged to stop nature loss, a figure calculated by The Nature Conservancy. The UK is calling on countries to commit to filling this gap in ‘A 10 Point Plan for Financing Biodiversity’, the plans published in September, in partnership with Ecuador, Gabon, and the Maldives.

According to the government, at COP27 ministers and representatives from 15 of the 17 existing signatories of the 10 point plan held a closed door meeting to begin “translating this plan into action” ahead of the biodiversity summit COP15 in Montreal.

Friends of the Earth campaigner, Paul de Zylva, said that while Thérèse Coffey is right to link the climate crisis and nature’s decline, the UK is among the world’s most nature-depleted nations for “very clear reasons”. 

“These include decades of harmful farming, land use and development schemes, often backed by billions of pounds of public money.  This cash should be diverted into restoring nature’s ability to function for the benefit of us all,” he said.

“If the UK government wants to back up its claims about environmental leadership it needs to end its recent attacks on nature and pull the plug on plans to water down the regulations that protect our natural world.”

Dustin Benton, policy director at Green Alliance, said: “These are good pledges, but they need to be matched by action at home. That means delivering on the Environment Act promises for nature recovery targets as soon as possible.”

He noted that only 20 per cent of peatlands in the UK are in a good state, and said the UK needs to reforest at a rate of 50,000 to 70,000 hectares per year to meet its nature and climate goals. Last year, just 14,000 hectares of woodland was planted.

Tom Fyans, Interim CEO of the countryside charity CPRE said that the Big Nature Impact Fund is welcome however, he added: “Rhetoric alone at international climate summits won’t cut it - we want consistent and meaningful action, and that starts at home.”

“This year we’ve seen the countryside under threat like never before - from extreme temperatures to plummeting wildlife numbers – and a joined-up approach to tackle the multiple crises facing our natural world is essential.”

He called for action on the government’s Environmental Land Management schemes, and said the government must create better farming policies to meet its 2030 nature goals and protect the green belt.