2020, an opportunity for nature and sustainable development

Several of the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) targets on life on land under Goal 15 need to be achieved by 2020. As we move towards this deadline, Georgina Chandler from the RSPB explains why UK leadership is critical to protect and restore life on land in the UK and internationally.

A world thriving with nature and wildlife brings joy to many but it also supports us to grow the food we eat, the water we drink and the air we breathe. So, it is no surprise that the environment is one of the core pillars of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – the global call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity. Yet, the nature that we love and depend on is disappearing – both here in the UK and around the world.

The UK is now one of the world’s most nature-depleted countries in the world with 56% of species declining between 1970 and 2013. Our review of the Governments’ progress against the SDGs, within , shows that we are far from protecting our life on land. Just 10% of UK land is currently protected for wildlife, and a low proportion of these areas are in favourable condition. Degradation of habitat outside protected areas, including peatland, continues at an alarming rate Whilst we have laws to protect our most important wildlife and their habitats, which are often effective at a local level, these alone have not been enough to prevent the widespread decline in wildlife.

The SDGs could support Governments and society to create a world that is full of wildlife and natural spaces. With nearly half of humanity directly dependent on the natural environment for their livelihoods, failure to look after life on land under SDG15 could totally undermine the achievement of all of the other Goals.

Securing the commitments we need

Internationally, SDG15, and actions to achieve it, are directly connected to global targets to protect wildlife -  the Aichi Biodiversity Targets for 2011-2020. In 2020 the world’s leaders will come together in Beijing at a global summit to save nature and to set new biodiversity targets. The negotiations there have the potential to set ambitious targets and actions for nature globally.

Back at home, the UK referendum decision to leave the EU, provides both risks and opportunities for our environment. If we succeed we could secure binding commitments from our four governments across the UK for nature’s recovery, and all the tools we need to achieve those – together these could be our contribution to SDG 15.

These commitments need to reflect the ambition of the SDGs and push us towards protecting and restoring life on land in the UK:

  • Set binding new targets in law for nature's recovery, so that we demonstrate our long-term commitment to protecting and restoring our natural environment.

  • Ensure that our land is well managed for nature by protecting areas that already support wildlife, connecting these spaces so wildlife can move freely and supporting farmers to work in harmony with nature.

  • Establish world-leading environmental watchdogs across the four countries of the UK, that will ensure that nature is truly protected in law. Add your voice to the public consultation to strengthen the government’s weak proposals before 2 August at rspb.org.uk/environmentwatchdog

  • Ensure that the UK plays a leading role in driving global ambitions for nature in 2020.

  • In the spirit of the SDGs, delivering for nature and sustainable development in the UK will require collaboration across sectors and industries, and across government departments.

  • For all of us, we need to take more actions to tackle our international footprint on the environment, as the plastics movement demonstrates, individual actions taken by everyone can have significant impacts.

Success in 2020 depends on global leadership from the UK and devolved governments, showing that we can restore the natural world here on our doorstep, so that it delivers both for nature and for people. In doing so we can inspire the world to act.

Georgina Chandler is International Policy Officer at the RSPB, one of organisations which authored the Goal 15 chapter of Measuring up.