Tackling climate and nature emergencies together

Helen Bailey

In a new report published today The Wildlife Trusts demonstrate how a variety of natural landscapes in the UK can store carbon, making the case for addressing the climate and nature emergencies together, head on

Drawing on the latest research, the report shows that if degraded habitats were to be expertly restored this would allow natural landscapes to store carbon and absorb a third of UK emissions.

The Wildlife Trusts (TWT) are calling on government, industry and local authorities to step-up investment in nature’s recovery and climate change mitigation by:

· Restoring a wide range of land habitats such as grasslands, peatlands and wetlands to store carbon. Government have missed targets to plant trees and help peatlands recover and now must identify, map and protect a wide array of ecosystems and restore them locally as part of a national Nature Recovery Network.

· Restoring nature at sea by introducing effective management for our network of Marine Protected Areas and by designating a suite of Highly Protected Marine Areas. These measures would bring our oceans back to health and enable them to function properly and absorb more human-made CO2 emissions.

TWT know from experience that restoration can help soak up UK emissions while contributing many additional benefits. For example, better natural habitats reduce the risk of flooding, help prevent coastal erosion, improve people’s health and ensure thriving ecosystems which provide the pollinators, soils, food and water which sustain us. Nature is, itself, at risk from climate change – yet its potential to store carbon means it can help address climate catastrophe.

Craig Bennett, CEO of The Wildlife Trusts says:

“We cannot tackle the climate crisis without similar ambition to meet the nature crisis head on – the two are inseparable. The climate crisis is driving nature’s decline, while the loss of wildlife and habitats leaves us ill-equipped to reduce our emissions and adapt to change. It makes no sense to continue destroying natural habitats when they could help us – nature’s fantastic ability to trap carbon safely and provide other important benefits is proven.

“But nature in the UK is in a sorry state and important habitats are damaged and declining. Efforts to cut emissions must be matched with determined action to fix broken ecosystems so they can help stabilise climate. Restoring nature in the UK needs to be given top priority – we’re calling on government, industry and local authorities to step-up investment urgently.”

TWT are leading ground-breaking projects to restore and connect habitats across the UK, creating a network of re-wetted peatlands, wet agriculture schemes and new saltmarsh. We also advise thousands of farmers and landowners on how best to care for their land so that it sustains wildlife. The report draws on a few of many Wildlife Trust examples of restored fenland at the Great Fen, huge-scale blanket bog restoration in Yorkshire, coastal realignment in Essex and beaver reintroduction in Scotland. 

Hear Craig Bennett and Lorna Parker, Great Fen restoration manager on BBC R4 Today programme, Wed 24 June - starts 2:49:47 mins, and watch Craig Bennett at the Great Fen below. 

Craig Bennett says: “The government has pledged to reach net zero by 2050 and the majority of local authorities have set net zero targets – but we know that the UK is not on track to reduce even 80% of its emissions. It seems absurd that government recently announced £27 billion for road building and is estimated to be spending over £100 billion on the hugely damaging HS2 rail project. They should spend this money on a green recovery instead. We are one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world; restoring nature would help avert the climate catastrophe, create jobs, prevent flooding, stop water being polluted, make us all healthier and allow wildlife to become abundant.”

In the March 2020 budget, the government announced a £640m Nature for Climate fund to restore peatland and plant trees: the plan is to restore 35,000 hectares of peatland by 2025 – that's only around 1% of UK peatlands. The Climate Change Committee suggests we need to restore at least 50% of upland peat and 25% of lowland peat to get on track to net zero. TWT believe that improving nature’s ability to store carbon cannot be at the expense of reducing emissions in other ways – but it is part of the solution. People can consider making sustainable lifestyle choices and government policy needs to ensure that we significantly reduce emissions in every part of our lives – from leisure and food production to manufacturing and transport.

Read ‘Let nature help – how nature’s recovery is essential for tackling the climate crisis’.