Policy Briefing: Nature-Based Solutions for Green Recovery

Adam Barnett

Tuesday 26 January 2021

Lighthouse on sea cliffs at Dunnet Head RSPB reserve, Caithness, near Thurso, Scotland

Nature-based solutions could mitigate global climate change by 30% a year – the figure needed to deliver the 1.5 target by 2050 (equivalent to 15 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide). Sadly, nature-based solutions currently receive only 2.5% of climate change funding worldwide.

Our policies to protect and restore nature

The UK must show global leadership on nature-based solutions and climate-friendly land management in the run-up to its Presidency of UNFCCC COP26, particularly considering the conference will shine a spotlight on the role of nature in tackling the climate crisis. This must include urgently introducing a range of ambitious policies to deliver:

  • Significant additional £5.62 billion a year funding for biodiversity and nature-based solutions
  • An Environment Bill to include targets for nature’s recovery, an independent Office for Environmental Protection and a Nature Recovery Network
  • An Agriculture Bill that commits to an ambitious ‘Public Money for Public Goods’ approach. This should include a 2040 net zero target for emissions from agriculture and land use
  • The ambitious 25 Year Environment Plan
  • Enhanced cooperation towards the Post-2020 Framework under the Convention on Biological Diversity
  • A significant uplift in international climate finance for nature-based solutions
  • A reduction of the UK’s global environmental footprint by enshrining strict environmental and human rights safeguards.

The RSPB recently undertook research to map the natural landscapes of peatlands, freshwater and coastal wetlands, semi-natural woodlands, and permanent grasslands. We found they contain two gigatons of carbon – the equivalent to four years of the UK’s annual emissions.

These key habitats need to be protected and restored in conjunction with a transition to sustainable agricultural practices, as well as wider legislation such as the Environment Bill and the Nature Recovery Network. If we don’t, they will continue to release emissions and exacerbate climate change.

Urgent action needed

Peatland covers 12% of the UK’s total land, and contains more carbon than the forests of UK, France and Germany combined. The Government must:

  • Ban burning on blanket bogs, including grouse moors, rather than the current voluntary agreements
  • Ban the use of peat in horticulture
  • Increase funding for peatland re-wetting and restoration.

The UK has lost more than half its native woodland and is now one of the least forested countries in Europe. The Government must:

  • Prioritise the conservation, enhancement and restoration of ancient and semi-natural woodland in the UK
  • Support new woodland creation in appropriate locations, at the right scale and supporting appropriate native species
  • Develop robust plans to sustainably deliver tree planting targets

There’s an average of 40 species per square metre of meadows and grasslands. However, 97% of our meadows and grassland has been lost since World War 2. Seventy-five percent of the remaining meadows are just tiny fragments of less than two hectares, which limits their biodiversity and carbon sequestration. Government policies must:

  • Protect the tiny amount of meadow remaining
  • Revert to permanent, natural grasslands, including wet or chalk grasslands as part of a varied farming landscape.

Coastal wetlands and saltmarsh habitats are not only vital for protection from flooding, they are estimated to provide £48 billion in ecosystem services per year. They can sequester up to four times more carbon than tropical rainforest. The Government must:

  • Use nature-based solutions to restore habitat and reduce flood and coastal erosion risk, such as natural flood management and managed realignment
  • Undergo a widespread seagrass restoration programme of our underwater meadows.

We have twice as much ‘forest’ cover at sea as we do have on land – through seagrass, kelp forest, and seaweed. In fact, seagrass globally covers 1% of the ocean floor, but captures over 10% of all the organic carbon stored by the ocean. The Government must:

  • Invest in restoring sea grass and kelp that has been lost
  • Ban super trawlers
  • Make all UK MPAs fully or highly protected. MPA’s currently cover 20% of the UK’s coat, but many activities aren’t restricted within them – we need ‘no take’ zones
  • Reallocate fishing quotas based on social and environmental benefits

While restoring specific habitats is important, 70% of the UK is farmed. Orchards and woodland incorporated into farms provide new sources of income, additional jobs, sustainable food, biodiversity gains, carbon sequestration, protecting against soil erosion and flooding, and physical and mental health benefits for local communities. The Government must:

  • Provide financial support and advice through Environmental Land Management scheme
  • Establish a 2040 net zero target for land emissions in the Agriculture Bill
  • Introduce ambitious baseline regulation for farming under the Agriculture Bill to ensure farming does not continue to damage the environment.

Download Policy Briefing (PDF) 

Unleash nature’s potential: Nature restoration could generate £6.4 billion a year in benefits to UK

This report shows how nature is crucial to our efforts to revive our world by highlighting examples from across the UK, in just five case studies the report shows how our natural wonders are already delivering us an incredible return on investment.

Download the report (PDF)

Last Updated: Tuesday 29 June 2021


Coast on a stormy day

Kirsten Carter

Principal Policy Officer

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