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by Louise Wilson
22 May 2021
In context: Biodiversity crisis


In context: Biodiversity crisis

Intrinsically linked to the climate crisis is the biodiversity crisis. Changing global temperatures has led to the destruction of habitats and already we are seeing the impact of the earlier arrival of spring on bird migration patterns and when plants bloom.

The survival of many species is at risk as a direct result of climate change, not helped by the degradation of ecosystems due to human activity and land use.

However, nature-based solutions could help to tackle both global warming and biodiversity loss.

How big is the problem in Scotland?

The latest State of Nature report found that 11 per cent of species in Scotland are threatened with extinction from Great Britain, while almost half (49 per cent) of species had decreased in abundance over the last 50 years.

Without intervention, this is expected to get worse as the impact of climate change takes hold. Many species have adapted to the specific climate conditions in Scotland and will be unable to keep up with the rapidly changing environment.

What are nature-based solutions to climate change?

The loose definition is action to conserve, manage and restore habitats which also come with climate adaptation or mitigation benefits.

Tree-planting is the obvious example – as well as restoring habitats through reforestation, trees capture carbon from the atmosphere and lock it up. Each hectare of woodland has the potential to capture 400 tonnes of carbon. In addition, trees help prevent flooding and landslips by binding soil, reduce pollution and keep soil rich in nutrients which helps other wildlife thrive.

But trees aren’t the only solution. Restoring peatland, wetlands, saltmarshes and many other habitats also come with similar climate benefits.

What is the Scottish Government doing?

The government has had a biodiversity strategy since 2004 which has undergone several updates and the latest climate change plan also includes biodiversity targets. These include restoring 250,000 hectares of peatland by 2030, increasing forest cover by 21 per cent by 2032 and promoting sustainable land use. The government has also committed £570,000 to support blue carbon research (to enhance carbon storage in marine and coastal environments).

In addition, the SNP’s 2021 manifesto included pledges to invest £500m in the natural economy, review current targets, create ‘nature networks’ in each local authority and establish a national register of ancient woodlands to help maintain and protect rainforest sites.

Is progress being made?

At a lesser known COP specifically focused on biodiversity – the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) – in 2011, countries around the world signed up to delivering 20 biodiversity targets by 2020. These are known as the Aichi targets, so called because they were agreed in Aichi, Japan, and include measures to mainstream biodiversity policy across government, reduce direct pressures on habitats, safeguard ecosystems, deliver benefits to all and enhance policy delivery. As the member state, the UK signed up on behalf of Scotland though biodiversity is devolved.

NatureScot, the national nature agency, recently assessed Scotland against the Aichi targets – and found it wanting. It concluded insufficient progress had been made and only nine of the targets had been met in full. In particular, it found efforts to reduce pressure on habitats were not enough and heavy grazing, land modification and habitat fragmentation continues. It also said more needed to be done if the Scottish Government was to meet its own targets on improving the condition of protected areas.

The good news is that the government has been heavily involved in what will come after the Aichi targets. It led on the Edinburgh Process, part of the CBD working group which is looking to develop the next global biodiversity framework. Last summer, the Edinburgh Declaration was agreed by several subnational governments, cities and local authorities which lays the groundwork. Further work will be taken forward over the coming months with the hope of fresh international agreement being reached at COP15 in Kunming, China in October 2021. 

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