Friday, 26 April 2019

Climate emergency, and local democracy.


We are in a time of climate and ecosystem emergency.  Any dispassionate view of the science inevitably draws you to that conclusion. 

We have little over a decade to address climate change before we run the risk of catastrophic change – although even now we have probably already caused irreversible changes to our climate.  We have rather less time to address ecosystem breakdown – although even now it will take the earth at least 3 million years to recover from losses caused so far.


Climate and ecosystem breakdown are not things of the future - they are with us now.

People are now waking up to this - see for example the South East Climate Alliance.  There is now significant pressure on local and national government to declare a climate emergency.  Some have done so, some have not.  But whether or not a climate and ecosystem emergency is declared the key test is what those in a position of authority are going to do about it.

The UK has tended to rest on its laurels on climate change – claiming to be a climate leader because of our theoretical emissions reductions.  Creative accountancy” is perhaps the best way to describe this.  Apparent reductions have come from a change from coal-fired power stations to gas (a lower emitter of carbon dioxide), a change that was going to happen anyway.  This is a one-off change not a trend (and ignores increased methane leakage which is a far worse greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide).  And a new coal mine is due to open shortly anyway!  Also, UK manufacturing industry has disappeared to other countries, apparently reducing our emissions.  But our demand for products now made in China still drives up carbon emissions – which are counted elsewhere.  We also don’t count emissions from air travel and shipping, some of the fastest growing sources.  Not counting them does not make them go away.

Just as creative accountancy does not cure financial crises, creative accountancy will not cure the environmental crisis.  Real progress is needed.

On the 2nd May we have a chance to call elected representatives to account – the day of our District Council elections.  Local Authority elections can have a notoriously poor turnout – few people bother to vote in local elections.  This is a pity.  Our environmental crisis needs to be addressed at all levels of government and this is the local level.  We all should engage in this process and test candidates in terms of their environmental credentials.  What answers to they have for the climate and ecosystem emergency?  You might be pleasantly surprised: candidates, from any political party, may well have strong environmental ethics and lobbying from their electorate may unlock the sort of change that is now needed.

This is democracy - find out who your local candidates are, find out how they plan to address the most important issues of our time, vote for the ones with the best environmental policies and lobby for necessary change to be delivered.

Monday, 8 April 2019

Restore the natural world and help save us from climate disaster.


Last week “NaturalClimate Solutions”  announced a new initiative to address both climate breakdown and ecosystem breakdown.  This is a group with a broad spectrum of support from Rowan Williams (former Archbishop of Canterbury) to George Monbiot and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, and with the sign-up of a large number of keyorganisations.

The message is simple: restore our battered natural world on a huge scale - far greater than the feeble efforts we’ve seen so far – and this will also draw carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and so help address climate change.  All efforts to reduce emissions of greenhouse gasses remain vital, but our dismal failure to address climate breakdown means that more is needed.  Taking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere is now necessary – and nature is the only viable way of achieving this.

In fact restoring the natural world will give us a huge number of other benefits as well – flood risk reduction, erosion control, pollution reduction, pollinating insects, soil, food, water, oxygen, etc, etc.  As well as just making the world a whole lot better!

“Natural Climate Solutions” calls for the large-scale restoration of lost forests throughout the world, the rebuilding of degraded peatlands on a huge scale, restoration of coastal habitats like salt marsh, mangrove forests, and seagrass beds (some coastal habitats can lock up carbon 40 times faster even than forests).  And so on.  Not just here and there, not just in nature reserves, but on a global scale in all regions.

The climate emergency is well known.  But the breakdown of our natural world is at least as worrying, yet far less recognised.  Warnings of our predicament abound.  Insect populations are falling off a cliff, vertebrate populations are down 60% in the last 30 years and extinction rates are about 1,000 times higher than they should be.  More than merely a pity, this is the breakdown of the life support systems on which we depend.

This is not just the rantings of a few radical environmentalists.  An independent international body (with the enormous title of the “Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform onBiodiversity and Ecosystem Services”)  has conducted a 3 year UN-backed study culminating in an 8,000 page report compiled by 500 experts in 50 countries which is perhaps the greatest attempt yet to assess the state of life on earth

In my mind there are two key messages coming out of this report. 

First is the basic fact that we are using nature at a rate that far exceeds its ability to renew itself.  As a result, our ability to support the human population is being compromised in every region on earth.  This is serious stuff – certainly as serious as climate change.

Second – this is the most important issue facing the human race and some of the best scientific minds have produced a state of the art document to raise the alarm.  But I bet almost no one reading this blog has heard about it! 

As a species we are obsessed with trivia rather than focus on the things that matter.

Ecosystem breakdown and climate breakdown are, of course, linked.  So it is refreshing to see the group “Natural Climate Solutions” promoting this agenda. 

It is not new, however.  We have been saying similar things in the Wildlife Trust for many years.  Our “Vision for the Wildlife of Sussex”, published in 1997, promoted major restoration of ecosystems throughout Sussex.  20 years later our strategy “Nature andWellbeing in Sussex” made similar points and giving nature the space it needs to be part of all our lives is the central call in our Wilder Sussex campaign .


Restoring nature was urgent – 30 years ago.  That is why most developed nations signed the convention on biological diversity  in 1992.  Since then progress has been dismal.  Virtually every (unambitious) target has been missed and we have entered the earth’s 6th mass extinction.  More than merely “urgent”, restoring nature is now an emergency integral with the climate emergency.  Maybe “Natural Climate solutions” will give us the impetus we need.

Tuesday, 19 March 2019

The last best hope!


A joint blog written by Tor Lawrence, current CEO of Sussex Wildlife Trust and I.

Friday 15th March 2019 will, we hope, be remembered as a turning point.

This was the day of the biggest climate strike by children and young people yet.  Over 1,000,000 students in over 1,000 locations in over 100 countries on all continents (including Antarctica!) took to the streets to demand action.  Climate change, the environmental crisis, the extinction of species and the breakdown of the earth’s life support systems have spurred a whole new generation into action.  In the words of one 6-year-old’s banner “we get it, why can’t you”.

As the current and the past CEOs of the Sussex Wildlife Trust, we were proud to be there.  But this was the kids' day.  They are leading and we think it imperative we support them.

When we first arrived, Parliament Square and the nearby streets had many pockets of primary age children demonstrating and there was an excitable, but gentle feel to the revolution. Then all of a sudden, taking us completely by surprise, thousands of teenagers streamed from two directions converging into the area in front of Westminster and poured around the square.

This young generation is rightly concerned.  Developed nations throughout the world signed the convention on climate change back in 1992.  Since then the world has emitted more carbon dioxide than in the entire history of the human race before 1992. 

We were warned.  Scientists said clearly at that point that we had a few decades to sort this out.  We’ve now had those few decades.  In that time we’ve moved from climate change, to climate emergency to climate crisis.  It is now beyond crisis - we have left things so late that the next generation, children in school today, will inevitably suffer major consequences.

We are not all naturally activists in the Sussex Wildlife Trust.  Marching on the streets is not our day job – it isn’t, and never will be the core approach to the way we work.  But, in the words of one student from Minnesota, it’s now “so bad even introverts are here”!  We prefer to do careful work gathering evidence, building partnerships, influencing policy and plans, presenting considered arguments, educating, championing wildlife and best practice in land, river and marine management.  This work remains central to our ethos.  We can point to individual successes, we can show species saved, habitats regenerated, policies influenced, people inspired by nature.  But our efforts have not delivered enough of what is needed and the children and young people are right to stand up and challenge us all.

We believe this is a cross-party issue. Everyone, whether left, right or centre all need a healthy environment, all have people with a strong environmental ethic and all have delivered work that they can be proud of; yet it is not enough.  Young people can see through this with the crystal clarity that is the benefit of their age.

This upwelling of strength of feeling from children must now spur real action from us adults with significant change at government and inter-government level, as well as in the private, voluntary and public sectors and from us all as individuals.  The kids mean business - for example there are currently legal actions against governments in France, Germany and the USA stimulated by the campaigns of children.  And the UN Secretary General, António Guterres, will host the 2019Climate Action Summit on 23 September to meet the climate challenge.

We must not fail them 

Whilst marching with the kids in London we saw a baby being carried – less than 6 months old.  Her mum was holding a tiny placard for her saying “I demand climate justice – and milk”!  When this child gets to the age of a retiring Sussex Wildlife Trust CEO it will be around the year 2085.  We are determined to take action to ensure that Sussex and the planet are well stewarded for her and her children’s children. The race is on.