By Mason Quah
THE promise of 30 per cent Protected Areas is about as meaningful as the promise of 40 new NHS hospitals.
There are many reasons to be doubtful towards the new environmental pledge, agreed to by 65 global leaders. In the UK this is especially the case because it is the latest in a long line of vague environmental platitudes, most ignored outside campaigning season.
The ability to follow through on the pledge is not held by the Prime Minster, or by Westminster. Environmental legislation is a devolved matter and unlikely to rank highly on uses of political capital with the administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The remaining possibility is to negotiate directly with landowners to bring their holdings under protected land legislation. This might meet the goal on paper but is unlikely to bring about meaningful change.
The existing 26 per cent of English land designated as National Parks are already in poor condition due to poor management. Expanding these National Parks from 26 per cent to 30 is unlikely to produce a meaningful change on the quality of conservation efforts in the nation.
Britain’s territorial waters are where the greatest benefit of the 30 by 30 pledge are intended to be felt. The goal is not simply to mark out 30 per cent of global waters as illegal to access but to establish managed ecosystems through human intervention.
Without attempts at managing the ecosystem this non-interventionist method of conservation simply shifts the issue from one location to another. Marine protection needs to be backed up with improvements in sustainable fishing and aquaculture.
The Marine Conservation Society reports that presently 23 per cent of UK waters are in Protected Areas but that less than 1 per cent are well managed.
Comparing this to the similar reports about management of national parks and it becomes clear that the UK’s conservation track record at land and sea are equally suspect. The fight cannot end at 30 per cent if only a fraction achieves the intended goal.
In their conservation requirements, land and sea are broadly the same. It is not simply a matter of expanding our national parks but properly funding efforts to manage and research them in order to make effective use of both the protected land and the remaining agricultural land.
While the pledge being met would be a mediocre outcome, the chance of even that much happening is currently slim. In the coming months and years goalposts will be shifted, definitions altered and the version of the 30 by 30 goal that is achieved in a decade will bear little to no resemblance to any original promise made on the subject.
The same was the case when the 2004 Convention on Biological Diversity agreed to a 10 per cent conservation goal by 2012. By the year 2010 only 2 per cent had been achieved and the deadline pushed back to 2020. Depending on which estimate is used, the global community is less than halfway towards that goal by the time of the extended deadline.
The promise of action must be backed up with the intent to follow through on those promises. In order for the 30 by 30 pledge to be taken seriously from Johnson or from any other leader agreeing to it, there must be a demonstrable plan of action that marks out how it differs from the previous attempts.
Conservation, while important, is one of the weaker pillars of environmental protection. No quantity of protected areas will be immune to the global effects of greenhouse emissions.
The UK needs to shift away from fossil fuels and invest more heavily in public transportation and green energy. The current government has instead voted to increase taxes levied against renewable energy and blocked proposals to invest in greener infrastructure for public transportation.
Former Conservative Rail and Environment minister Claire O’Neill described the government’s progress towards the Paris Agreement goals were “not close to being met” ahead of the 2020 stocktake.
That convention has been postponed a year due to Covid-19, but we’re still unlikely to meet our goals.
The promise of future action towards climate action is an empty gesture when such gestures have been made by every leader for a generation. This country has had continuity of leadership for a decade and seen minimal change in climate policy.
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