Wildlife crisis 'requires leadership'

Wildlife loss is a global crisis - the next UK Government must step up.

This is a global crisis and we need UK leadership and investment globally.

Rishi Sunak's lack of interest in the environment calls for better leadership - urgently. New research has found that the UK is among the wealthy countries which are contributing less than half of their fair share of nature finance to poor countries.

This month saw 350 environmental groups join forces for the first time to protest the UK Government’s inaction on the biodiversity crisis. When I resigned from the government last year, I said that Rishi Sunak was “uninterested” in the environment, describing the “apathy” I saw in the face of our greatest challenge. 

The protesters on Saturday, 22 June 2024 reflected that frustration, people can see the impact of wildlife loss on their local communities, the quiet summer evenings that should be filled with birdsong, the ponds and streams missing the silver flash of fish. And this really matters. 


Nature loss isn’t a niche issue – it is central to everything we know, need and love. 

Exasperated by shouting matches at Westminster and the slow response even to the most urgent of crises, it’s little wonder that many British citizens have become sceptical about what politics can achieve and take to the streets in protest. 

Yet, some of the most important change happens where few are looking. When I served as the UK’s International Environment Minister, one of my proudest moments came at an underreported but critically important UN summit in Montreal on nature and biodiversity in late 2022.

After years of hard-fought negotiations, for the first time, 196 of the world's nations reached a historically ambitious agreement to protect the world's biodiversity, signing the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework.

The agreement included plans to halt and reverse biodiversity loss by 2030 and to protect 30% of all land and ocean. 


Developed countries agreed to collectively invest at least $20 billion per year by 2025 to help developing countries - which steward the world’s most vital ecosystems - meet those targets. 

None of this felt even remotely attainable just a few years ago, despite the crushing urgency for all of our futures of turning the tide on global nature loss. But we have seen that when countries come together in good faith, we can achieve far more than the sum of our parts.

And I’m proud that the UK has played a leading role since our COP26 and G7 presidencies, including our throwing our weight behind building and driving the High Ambition Coalition for Nature and People, which helped galvanise global support for meaningful targets. 

We were also behind the Leaders Pledge for Nature, perhaps the strongest statement ever by governments on the need to mend our relationship with the natural world, and which was endorsed by nearly 100 Heads of State and the President of the European Commission for the European Union. 

This is a global crisis and we need UK leadership and investment globally.

This is a global crisis and we need UK leadership and investment globally.

We spearheaded the Joint Donor Statement, a commitment by 14 countries to collectively increase international biodiversity finance and persuaded the G7 to align all international development Aid, with the ambition of the Global Biodiversity Framework.


 It was UK negotiators, backed by Ministers, who played a critical role in securing agreement for a new Treaty to protect the High Seas and separately a new Treaty to get to grips with the plastic pollution crisis.

None of these successes were deemed particularly newsworthy to the mainstream media but collectively they offer a real chance of addressing what is, objectively, the greatest challenge facing our species. And the UK played a pivotal role in delivering them.

Yet, just two years after the historic agreement in Montreal and just months before the 2025 deadline to deliver on the promise of $20 billion, our country, and, I’m sad to say, our current Government, is not on track to meet our agreed financial obligations.

According to a new report by the global affairs think tank ODI, commissioned by Campaign for Nature, the UK needs to increase its annual nature funding to £1.46 billion ($1.87 billion) a year to meet its fair share of the $20 billion. 


We rank only 14th in nature finance performance, falling behind Australia, Germany, France, and Luxembourg. Our performance isn't good enough for a country where the environment consistently ranks among the top five public concerns. 

Biodiversity is declining at an unprecedented rate in human history. Today we are losing roughly 45 football fields worth of tropical forest every single minute. 

Almost half of all species on earth are undergoing population declines, with up to one million species facing possible extinction, many within decades. And, studies have shown that the UK is one of the worst countries in the world for nature loss, with up to one in six species at risk of extinction.

We are devastating these precious beings and places without appreciating that we rely on them for our own survival. If the rapid pace of biodiversity loss is allowed to continue, we will all suffer, with serious implications for food and water supplies, disease outbreaks, and peace and security globally. 


Yet, it doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom. Healthy ecosystems underpin essential services, support vast numbers of jobs, and drive sustainable economic growth, ensuring long-term prosperity and resilience. Investing in nature delivers a great return on investment for our country and our planet.

Much of the world's remaining biodiversity is located in developing countries, making them crucial for safeguarding a viable planet. 

The UK has a genuine opportunity to reset our position with our partners in the Global South and turn words into deeds. Political parties have a real opportunity to seize the nature agenda. 

The good news is that Labour’s David Lammy, Ed Miliband, and Steve Reed have all made promising noises on nature here in the UK, but biodiversity loss doesn’t stop at Dover. This is a global crisis and we need UK leadership and investment globally.

Two years ago, we helped drive the world into ambition on nature. Now we need to keep our promises before it’s too late. 

This Author

Lord Zac Goldsmith is a former UK international environment minister and a member of Campaign for Nature’s global steering committee. He is also a former owner and editor of The Ecologist.

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