Biodiversity recovery: Boris Johnson pledges to protect 30 per cent of UK land by 2030

Prime Minister sets out fresh nature recovery targets for UK as he joins leaders of Germany, France, Bangladesh, and Mexico in backing Leaders Pledge for Nature, a 10-point plan geared at reversing global nature loss

In plans set to be announced later today, Prime Minister Boris Johnson will pledge to protect 30 per cent of the UK’s land by 2030 in a bid to put “nature and biodiversity on a road to recovery”.

The Prime Minister will make the commitment at a virtual United Nations event this afternoon, where he will join heads of 63 other nations in signing a landmark ‘Leaders Pledge for Nature’.

Johnson is expected to unveil the new goal in a speech to world leaders that addresses the “frightening rate” of nature loss worldwide. “We must act now – right now,” he will say. “We cannot afford dither and delay because biodiversity loss is happening today and it is happening at a frightening rate. Left unchecked, the consequences will be catastrophic for us all. Extinction is forever – so our action must be immediate.”

The government said that it plans to work with the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland as well as landowners to reach the new 30 per cent target, a goal it estimated would involve extending protections to an area of land the size of the Lake District and South Downs National Park combined.

Roughly 400,000 extra hectares of countryside must be protected, it said, noting that national parks, areas of outstanding beauty, and other protected areas already comprised 26 per cent of land in England.

However, green group The Wildlife Trusts has this morning contested the government’s figures and warned it should not underestimate the scale of the task required to meet its 30 per cent target. “[The pledge] is welcome but at Wildlife Trusts we estimate only five per cent of land is currently in good state for wildlife, so there’s a lot to do,” chief executive Craig Bennett tweeted this morning.

The group estimates that just 10 per cent of the UK’s land is protected for wildlife under the sites of special scientific interest (SSSIs) designation, and much of this land is in poor condition. The group has today launched a public appeal geared at raising £30m to start helping nature to recover “at least 30 per cent” of the UK’s land and sea by 2030.

Pressure on state actors to boost their nature conservation and protection efforts is building after a series of landmark reports from WWF, the UN, and a new documentary by Sir David Attenborough have laid bare the staggering rate of nature loss and nation states’ collective failure to meet the biodiversity targets set at the Convention of Biological Diversity in Aichi 10 years ago.

As such, Martin Harper, RSPB director of global conservation, today called on the UK government to enshrine its 30 per cent target into domestic law, warning the failure to meet the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, which were not legally binding, had demonstrated that “targets on paper won’t be enough”.

The Prime Minister will today join dozens of world leaders in signing the Leaders Pledge for Nature, a 10-point pledge that commits world leaders to embracing actions that can reverse nature’s decline, ranging from ending the illegal wildlife trade, tackling environmentally harmful fishing practices, and implementing nature-based solutions for climate change.

Leaders of France, Germany, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Mexico, and Costa Rica are among those that have endorsed the pledge, which will be signed days before world leaders convene for the UN Summit on Biodiversity. A number of non-state actors, including WWF, World Resources Institute, Wildlife & Countryside Link, have also supported the initiative.

Marco Lambertini, director general of WWF-International, touted the pledge as a “pivotal moment” for biodivesity protection efforts, with countries demonstrating “real leadership from the highest political level, and committing to reverse biodiversity loss by 2030”. 

Lambertini called on world leaders attending the forthcoming UN Summit on Biodiversity, set to launch on Wednesday, to “develop and agree a shared plan for the biodiversity and climate negotiations scheduled for next year, to secure a carbon-neutral, nature-positive and equitable future for all”. He added: “There has never been a more crucial time to act for nature than now.”

The push from global leaders to shore up their nature conservation efforts comes as some of the world’s biggest banks, investors, and companies have joined forces to establish a new Task Force on Nature-related Financial Disclosures (TNFD) to try and highlight the economic and commercial risks that are escalating as a result of biodiversity and habitat loss.

BNP Paribas, BP, NatWest, Ernst & Young USA, GlaxoSmithKline, HSBC, and Lloyds Banking Group are among the firms establishing a work plan for the new taskforce, which is expected to launch next year and will aim to address data gaps currently preventing financial institutions from understanding and addressing their nature-related risks. The governments of the UK, Switzerland, France, Peru, Argentina, and Mexico are also members of the ‘informal working group’, which was announced on Friday.

“Biodiversity finance is the new frontier of green finance,” said French secretary of state for biodiversity Bérangère Abba at a launch event. “Nature requires as much ambition and collective effort as it has been done for climate so far, and the private sector can play a crucial part in redirecting financial flows.”

She added that the TNFD would accelerate understanding of biodiversity finance and “ultimately lead to both a reduction in financial flows and economic activities that are harmful to biodiversity and a massive redirection of flows towards activities that are favourable to biodiversity.”

Read more: