One of the characteristics of the early part of lockdown was the noticeable impact on the natural environment. Many of us were pleased that the change was being noticed and hoped that it may lead to a rethink and readjustment in attitudes to the natural world.
There may still be opportunities for this, especially as many councils have now accepted the existence of the ‘climate emergency’ and have committed themselves to measures aimed at tackling it. This is another side to this though as we are also going through a period of ecological crisis. The below council motion, based on a motion from Bath and North East Somerset Lib Dems, highlights this issue and some of the possible actions we can take.
Declaring an Ecological Emergency
Council acknowledges that:
- On 10 October 2019, the Council’s Climate Emergency Progress Report recognised the ecological emergency, noting specifically: species extinction, loss of habitat and the connectivity of habitats, decline in the pollinators that are crucial to food supply, and the loss of and decline in the health and quantity of soil. The Council recognised that the climate and ecological emergencies are both the result of over-exploitation of the Earth’s resources and poor land management.
- The report recognised the long and strong history of work on biodiversity, landscape and ecology in [AREA], including a range of strategies, partnerships and projects, both at local and national level that are delivering action related to the ecological emergency.
- In late 2018, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued their special report raising the alarm and calling for much more radical and rapid action to reduce carbon emissions from the burning of fossil fuels to avert climate catastrophe, which inspired the School Strikes 4 Climate and Extinction Rebellion and has resulted in over two thirds of UK local authorities declaring a Climate Emergency.
- In May 2019, the UN’s Intergovernmental Science Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) similarly raised the alarm about the urgent ecological emergency the world also faces. The UK’s State of Nature 2019 report also highlights the critical decline in biodiversity in the UK.
- The survival of our society and economy depends absolutely on the health of the natural environment and ecosystems, providing, for example, clean water and air, food, timber, flood protection, mental and physical health and wellbeing and, as is now being recognised, carbon sequestration.
- In terms of the relationship between the climate and ecological emergencies, both the IPCC and the UK’s Climate Change Committee make clear that whilst reducing carbon from fossil fuels is the top priority for tackling the climate emergency, it is also necessary to find ways to increase carbon absorption, or sequestration, by the natural environment, by, for example, tree planting, peatland restoration, different methods of land management and improved agricultural practices that enable carbon to be drawn down into the soil on a large scale.
- [AREA] has an opportunity to increase the sequestration of carbon by trees, grassland and soil but further work will be needed, involving a range of stakeholders in order to balance this complex set of natural environment issues:
- Increasing biodiversity and protection of habitats and species, including key pollinators and other insects;
- Increasing carbon sequestration;
- Increasing soil quality and quantity, reducing chemical fertilisers and pesticides and preventing soil erosion;
- Increasing local food production, utilising local productive capacity, through less intensive agricultural methods, as a number of local farmers already do;
- Increasing flood defence, natural flood mitigation measures, natural shading as the climate change;
- Protecting our natural landscape and enhancing the natural capital and ecosystem services it provides, whilst enabling sensitive renewable energy development and enabling more people to benefit from time spent in nature.
- The Government’s new Environment Bill will mandate a requirement for 10% biodiversity net gain (BNG), building on the existing National Planning Policy requirement for new development.
Therefore, alongside the work already underway, this Council formally declares an ecological emergency and will:
- Promote its existing core policy of ‘tackling the climate and nature emergency’.
- Work with partners locally and regionally in [AREA] to drive coordinated leadership and collaborative action on ‘tackling the climate and nature emergency’.
- Ensure the delivery of biodiversity and environmental enrichment and resist destruction of habitats through planning policy and development management.
- Identify appropriate areas for habitat restoration within Bath and North East Somerset for wildlife.
- Continue to collaborate with our communities, businesses and other organisations, existing networks and partnerships, schools, colleges and universities, to improve ecological literacy and encourage greater biodiversity, tree-planting and management.
- Continue to work with our [REGION] partners to update the existing ecological audit.