The urgency to address climate change has become increasingly apparent, with its far-reaching impacts on our planet and ecosystems. In the United Kingdom, the gravity of this crisis has prompted the implementation of transformative policies, such as Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG).
Here, in our first statistical deep dive, we build on a theme we have convered before, and delve into the compelling reasons behind the adoption of conservation policies in the UK, highlighting the strong link between climate change and biodiversity promotion.
While it’s estimated that the UK’s CO2 emissions have only accounted for around 1% of the total global output in the past century (in the chart below, you can see how the UK compares to the top producing countries/regions over the past 100 years), they are at the forefront of worldwide effort towards sustainability and conservation. As such, the country is showcasing its commitment to mitigating climate change impacts through visionary initiatives, technology and policy.
Building and applying policies to reduce CO2 emissions is a complex and multifaceted challenge. Given the diverse range of stakeholders, scientific considerations, economic factors, and societal priorities, several recommendations, policies, and legislation have been developed to address and mitigate the impacts of climate change and improve biodiversity in the UK. Below we highlight the key documents and policies that are currently being used and implemented. We will also summarise these key commitments and how they tie into the BNG initiative in this blog.
Net Zero 2050 Strategy
The UK's Net Zero Strategy is a comprehensive plan aimed at achieving Net Zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, and in the process boosting the UKs economy. The strategy was launched in December 2020, building upon the UK's commitment to the Paris Agreement and its previous legislations, including the Climate Change Act 2008.
The strategy builds on The Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution established by the UK government in November of 2020. The ten points focus on sustainable development, supporting green jobs, and reducing the country’s overall carbon footprint. The areas covered are:
- advancing offshore wind
- driving the growth of low carbon hydrogen
- delivering new and advanced nuclear power
- accelerating the shift to zero emission vehicles
- green public transport, cycling and walking
- ‘jet zero’ and green ships
- greener buildings
- investing in carbon capture, usage and storage
- protecting our natural environment (Biodiversity Net Gain)
- green finance and innovation
With a belief that green and growth go hand-in-hand, it outlines various measures across sectors, including energy, transportation, industry, buildings, and agriculture to drive decarbonisation and transition to cleaner technologies. In their efforts they are projecting an increase in higher skilled and higher wage jobs across the country while decreasing costs of utilities through adoption of sustainable, green energy sources.
According to their policy paper, the UK has reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 44%, while growing the economy by over 78% since 1990. The Net Zero strategy emphasises the need to enhance biodiversity through measures such as reforestation, afforestation, and the protection of ecosystems, acknowledging the importance of nature-based solutions and the preservation of biodiversity in mitigating climate change and enhancing resilience.
Looking forward, studies show that in the long run the costs of inaction around human-impacts on the climate far exceed that of investing in green choices now. To date, the UK government has mobilised £26 billion of government capital investment for the green industrial revolution. This capital investment, along with conservation and sustainability focused regulations is projected to support up to 190,000 jobs in 2025, and up to 440,000 jobs in 2030, and leverage up to £90 billion of private investment by 2030.
25 year Environment Plan
The 25 Year Environment Plan is a long-term vision for environmental improvement in the UK. Initiated in 2018, the policy paper addresses environmental challenges and provides a framework for sustainable development. 151 pages packed with data, facts, projections and plans it serves as a resource for environmentalists, legislators, policy makers and concerned citizens alike.
As a cornerstone resource of information for environmental laws, the plan reveals some compelling statistics around the need for biodiversity conservation, including:
Declining Wildlife: The plan acknowledges that the UK has experienced a decline in wildlife populations, with 56% of species in decline and 15% at risk of extinction.
Habitat Loss: It emphasises the need to restore and create wildlife-rich habitats, stating that over 97% of species-rich meadows and 80% of heathlands have been lost since the 1930s.
Marine Conservation: The plan recognises the importance of marine conservation and aims to establish a ‘Blue Belt’ of protected areas around the UK's overseas territories, covering 4 million square kilometres of ocean.
Peatland Restoration: It sets a target to restore 75% of damaged peatlands by 2040, as peatlands play a vital role in carbon storage, water regulation, and supporting biodiversity.
Tree Planting: The plan aims to plant 180,000 hectares of new woodland by 2042, contributing to increased tree cover and habitat creation.
Natural Capital Approach: The plan emphasises the value of nature and the importance of integrating the ‘natural capital’ concept into decision-making processes, recognising that investing in nature benefits both the environment and the economy.
The Environment Act 2021
The Environment Act 2021 is a piece of legislation in the United Kingdom proposed in 2018 and passed into law November 9, 2021. Its main goal is to establish a robust legal framework for environmental governance. As such, it sets ambitious targets for environmental improvement, including provisions for air and water quality, waste reduction, nature recovery, and climate change mitigation and adaptation.
It’s core policies include:
- Biodiversity Net Gain mandates, requires a 10% net gain in biodiversity maintained over 30 years for all new developments
- Specific growth targets for different species across the UK to halt the decline in species numbres by 2030.
- The introduction of Local Nature Recovery Strategies and the creation of a Nature Recovery Network
- Restore precious water bodies to their natural state by cracking down on harmful pollution from sewers and abandoned mines and improving water usage in households
- Deliver net zero ambitions and boost nature recovery by increasing tree and woodland cover to 16.5% of total land area in England by 2050
- Halve the waste per person that is sent to residual treatment by 2042
- Cut exposure to the most harmful air pollutant to human health, PM2.5
- Restore 70% of designated features in our Marine Protected Areas to a favourable condition by 2042, with the rest in a recovering condition.
The legislation is under close watch from DEFRA, with a number of biodiversity targets proposed and closely monitored for a 2042 deadline.
Overall, the Environment Act 2021 serves as a significant step forward in enhancing environmental protection, addressing climate change, and promoting biodiversity net gain in the UK.
In September 2020, the UK government committed to protect 30% of UK land and sea by 2030. Initiated as part of efforts to address the global biodiversity crisis and mitigate the impacts of climate change, the commitment aims to designate and protect 4,000 sq KM of new land and 3,700 km of coastline in the UK.
By conserving and restoring 30% of the land and sea, the commitment contributes to the overall goal of enhancing biodiversity, supporting ecosystem services, and ensuring sustainable development practices.
While not legislatively binding, the commitment is watched closely by environmental and wildlife coalitions in the UK and is used as a metric for measuring the governments conservation efforts.
In a 2022 Progress report by Wildlife and Countryside Link, field experts found that current progress has only increased by 0.22% on land and 4% on water between 2021 and 2022.
At the time of the progress report, only 3.22% of England’s land is effectively protected and well managed for nature (increased from 3% in 2021) and 8% of England’s seas are currently effectively protected for nature (up from 4% in 2021).
Environmental Improvement Plan 2023
Set as a regular 5 year check in on the 25 Year Environment Plan, the Environmental Improvement Plan 2023 is a corporate report with a detailed examination of the goals and objectives made to date. It is filled with interim targets that support the established longer-term targets. This plan helps track progress and is in line with the expected commitments of the 30% by 2023 plan. Examples of this progress include:
- The restoration or creation of 140,000 hectares of wildlife-rich habitats outside already existing and protected sites by January 31, 2028, compared to 2022 levels.
- All Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) to have an up-to-date condition assessment by January 31, 2028.
- 50% of SSSIs to have actions on track to achieve favourable condition by January 31, 2028.
- Increase tree canopy and woodland coverage by 0.26% of land area (equivalent to 34,000 hectares) by January 31, 2028.
Summary & Conclusions
Global and local environmental practices and policy changes are vital for reducing CO2 emissions and maintaining a habitable planet for humanity. In the graph below, you can see the projected need for global reduction of CO2. It’s massive. But the UK is at the forefront of policy and practise for making positive, green changes for a healthy future.
By integrating Biodiversity Net Gain and other sustainability practices into development projects here in the UK, we can ensure that the natural environment is protected, restored, and enhanced. This, alongside sustainable energy sources, conservation efforts, and emissions reductions, paves the way for a sustainable future that balances human needs with the preservation of biodiversity and ecosystem services.
There are loads of resources, policies, plans, commitments and legislation surrounding climate change policy. Biodiversity Net Gain is just one piece of a giant puzzle in the efforts to reduce, reverse and eventually eliminate the CO2 impact human actions have on the planet.
While Biodiversity Net Gain mandates may seem overwhelming in the face of your development projects, Joe’s Blooms is a helpful, end-to-end digital resource to make sure your projects are compliant. Now is the moment of the green industrial revolution. Together, we can be a part of leaving the country, the world, in a progressively better state than how we found it.
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