Sally-Ann Hart: We need to turbo-charge Mother Nature’s power

11 Sep

Sally-Ann Hart is the MP for Hastings and Rye, and was a councillor in Rother.

Following this summer’s flooding, drought and fire events across Europe, it is hard to understand why some people remain unconvinced about climate change.

The recent report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found that the world is warming faster than previously anticipated, and climate change is already affecting every single region of our planet.

I very much welcome the UK’s lead in tackling climate change; the UK was the first G7 country to legislate to achieve net zero by 2050, and we are decarbonising faster than any other G20 country.

The Government has already made huge strides in policy-making to protect and enhance our environment:

  • The Prime Minister’s 10-point Plan lays the foundations for the UK to lead the Green Industrial Revolution, and accelerate our path to net-zero;
  • The Agriculture Act, which changes the way farmers are supported, centres funding support around incentivising sustainable farming practices, creating habitats for nature recovery and supporting the establishment of ecosystems, such as new woodland;
  • and the landmark Environment Bill, which puts our environment at the heart of all government policymaking.

I wholeheartedly support the Government aims as regards our environment and reducing carbon emissions. Restoring nature is a central theme, with initiatives such as Natural Environment Investment Readiness Fund, aimed at driving private investment in nature-based solutions to climate change, or the Green Recovery Challenge Fund, which has backed projects which not only boost nature recovery, but also support and create jobs.

But we need to ask whether all these policies will be enough. Nature recovery is being increasingly acknowledged to be fundamental in fighting against climate change, but we need to unleash the full potential of nature as she can do much more; we need to ramp up action in relation to nature-based solutions, especially ahead of COP26 and the publication of the Government’s comprehensive net zero strategy later this year.

Natural habitats in oceans and on land can store vast quantities of carbon. To quote Socrates, ‘He is the richest who is content with the least, for content is the wealth of nature’, and nature provides us with a wealth of solutions to combat climate change.

G20 finance ministers have recognised that nature-based solutions are the most cost-effective, and represent more effective and sustainable investment to protect and revive the planet – to store and capture carbon. But it is also recognised that nature-based solutions receive a very small percentage, around 2.5%, of public climate mitigating funding.

As a Conservative Environment Network Nature-Based Solutions Champion, I have been championing the cause of nature-based solutions to reduce our carbon emissions, and whilst the UK Government has already invested in nature-based solutions, including tree planting, there are many ways we can use the natural environments to do this.

Take our humble, traditional English hedgerows as an example, which are some of the most accessible wildlife habitats along roads, footpaths, fields, gardens and railways. Thousands of hedgerows have gone; removed for increasing farming productivity in the mid-20th century. Many remaining hedgerows have been left un-managed, over-trimmed or affected by agricultural chemicals.

Hedgerows are not only important for wildlife, but also for nature recovery and biodiversity. There has been a growing consensus that hedgerows are also vital to the climate in making a real, tangible contribution to reducing carbon emissions by storing carbon.

As a ‘Hedgerow Hero’, I welcome the new CPRE report (‘Hedge Fund: investing in hedgerows for climate, nature and the economy’ September 2021) which reveals how our humble hedgerows could become champions of climate action and nature recovery, while contributing thousands of jobs to local communities.

The Government has set clear targets to increase tree planting, for example, but it has not set a target for hedgerows, which are a vital tool to sequester carbon, aid nature’s recovery and even protect against flooding.

In its May 2019 report, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) advocated increasing our hedgerows by 40% by 2050, alongside other methods of carbon capture.

New research conducted by the Organic Research Centre, on behalf of CPRE, has found that the benefits of setting and achieving this target would not only be for the climate and nature, but also for employment, with 40% more hedgerows resulting in over 25,000 more jobs in hedgerow planting and maintenance in both rural and urban areas. Furthermore, research shows that for every £1 invested in hedgerow planting, as much as £3.92 is generated in the wider economy.

Our Earth has been a very giving, even forgiving planet, providing us with everything that we need to survive and thrive. But now we need to support – turbo-charge – Mother Nature’s power, and allow her to do her job to ensure our survival for future generations.