We’ve seen welcome efforts by society and by government to slow down the loss of nature. But it’s been exactly that - slowing down inexorable decline.
A huge campaign is needed to reverse the “mass extinction” of nature and instead promote restoration of ecosystems in the UK, according to Tony Juniper, one of the country's foremost environmentalists.
Juniper, who has held senior positions with several NGOs, and authored books on environmental issues - including the Ladybird Book guide to Climate Change with the Prince of Wales - has recently been appointed by WWF as executive director of advocacy and campaigns.
He said campaign organisations including the WWF, RSPB and Wildlife Trusts were planning to come together - potentially in a similar set up to Greener UK, a coalition of 13 NGOs set up to prevent environmental standards being dropped after Brexit.
Climate Change Act
Juniper, a former trustee of Resurgence Trust which owns and publishes The Ecologist, made the comments at a conference about reversing the decline of nature in the UK. “We’re in need of something like Greener UK. We’ve never before had a focussed political agenda of the type that’s come of out that,” he said.
The Climate Change Act was a good model to follow, Juniper said. As executive director of Friends of the Earth he led the Big Ask campaign that led to the act being signed into legislation in 2008 - the first of its kind in the world. The act provided binding, five-yearly targets for carbon reduction based on latest science, with a long-term goal of an 80 percent cut by 2050.
The act is credited with the rapid decline in power generation from coal in the UK and the rise in renewables, as well as influencing other governments around the world to create similar legislation. “It transformed the situation very quickly,” Juniper said.
The debate around nature has moved on considerably from when Juniper first started working in conservation several decades ago, he noted.
“The prevailing sense across society, politics and boardrooms was that environmental degradation and destruction was the price of progress, it was what we had to do to create economic growth and jobs. Anyone who got in the way of that was anti-people,” he said.
Today, there was a realisation that healthy natural systems were an essential way to create health, wealth and security, he said. But despite this, there was a “mass extinction happening all around us”.
An Environment Act is needed to ensure that the whole economy was working towards restoring nature - rather than just slowing down its decline, he said.
“We need to reframe the discussion about nature in this country. For many years, we’ve seen welcome efforts by society and by government to slow down the loss of nature. But it’s been exactly that, slowing down inexorable decline,” he said.
Moving towards restoring nature can only be done with very big ambition, joining together different policy agendas - and bringing in private sector money - which would require legislation to make it happen, he said.
Juniper said that NGOs had already approached ministers about the idea, and were working on a public campaign that would be launched in the “not too distant future”. “We will need a big movement behind us for what we’re trying to achieve,” he said.
He was optimistic that the government would support the idea, even when so much time was taken up with issues concerning leaving the EU. “The UK will want to be an influential leading country on the global stage as we leave the EU. One of the ways in which we could do that is to set new ambition on environmental restoration.
“It would go very much with the mood of the country, whether you’re a leaver or remainer,” he said.
Michael Gove, the environment secretary, has promised that a new green watchdog will be set up to ensure that environmental laws are enforced after the UK leaves the EU. However, a consultation on the proposals is yet to be published.
Catherine Early is a freelance environmental journalist and the former deputy editor of the environmentalist. She can be found tweeting at @Cat_Early76. Tony Juniper is the subject of the Ecologist interview in the May / June issue of Resurgence & Ecologist magazine, on sale from 20 April.