You may very well be forgiven for pondering this was the week Boris Johnson actually grasped the perilous state of the planet.
After a protracted silence on environmental points, he made not one however three “green” speeches to the UN biodiversity summit in New York.
At first sight, his guarantees appeared formidable: take the headline on a Downing Street press launch which learn “PM commits to guard 30% of UK land in increase for biodiversity”.
Nearly a third of UK land protected for nature… that’s impressive, right? Well, not according to some.
Environmentalists called the press release a masterpiece of spin: it gave the impression that 30% of land would be protected for biological diversity.
But, as campaigners pointed out, the UK’s proposed protected area would mainly refer to land protected for beauty, not wildlife.
The “30 by 30” target was initially proposed by international green groups in 2018, and clearly referred to nature protection, not landscape value.
But much of the area to be included in the UK’s proud 30% target are principally managed for walkers, tourists and sheep, not rare plants and insects.
In fact, some protected uplands are actually relatively poor in biodiversity, following decades of overgrazing.
This means the government’s only firm promise this week – after three prime ministerial speeches – is to safeguard just 4% more of the UK’s land for nature.
That’s hardly an urgent response to what the PM calls a crisis.
So what was the PM’s contribution to the summit?
Well, it pulsed with colour. He warned: “Consider the pangolin – that scaly mammalian miracle of evolution boasting a prehensile tongue that is somehow attached to its pelvis.
“I don’t believe any of us would choose to bequeath a planet on which such a wonderfully bizarre little creature is as unfamiliar to future generations as dinosaurs and dodos are to us today.”
But his scaly tribute bore no further new policies.
What about climate pledges?
The previous week, on the subject of climate change, the PM flamboyantly predicted that the UK could be the “Saudi Arabia” of wind power.
He declared himself an “evangelist” for the extremely expensive technology of CCS – carbon capture and storage, which buries CO2 in underground rocks.
He heralded a revolution for hydrogen fuel and said the UK would get more nuclear power. He also said Britain would phase out sales of new petrol cars earlier than planned.
But he didn’t say when, and didn’t give any particulars of different insurance policies in his in-tray, or how they’d be funded.
As the UK prepares to host subsequent 12 months’s world local weather summit, the PM’s critics say he should urgently underpin his phrases with money and timetables for supply.
Former Tory minister Sir Nicholas Soames wrote within the Times that, regardless of current rhetoric, the UK is falling behind on carbon-cutting usually and on the high-level diplomacy wanted to unite worldwide companions.
He mentioned: “The government must wake up to the challenge in front of it and realise that the diplomatic landscape is the toughest it has been.”
So, what’s the PM doing proper for the atmosphere?
To be honest, the federal government is making pioneering strikes in some areas of inexperienced coverage.
It’s committing to interrupt the hyperlink between deforestation and UK provide chains. And it is helped lead the Global Ocean Alliance, which goals to guard at the very least 30% of the world’s oceans by 2030.
The UK’s Blue Belt programme is a little-publicised however main initiative on monitor to guard marine areas the dimensions of India.
But actual agency motion is proving extra elusive than phrases. Greenpeace was so incensed by what it referred to as an absence of enforcement of marine zones that it dropped boulders within the North Sea to impede fishing.
On farming, the federal government additionally has – in concept – a excellent news story to inform.
It’s attracted admirers with its scheme to swap the widely-reviled EU farm coverage for a grant system based mostly on wildlife safety slightly than farm measurement.
But now it appears the necessity to preserve farmers in enterprise could immediate ministers to raid the deliberate nature safety price range.
Meanwhile, the federal government’s formidable Environment Bill would enshrine biodiversity targets in regulation if solely it wasn’t caught within the Commons for a need of Parliamentary time.
Does that imply the inexperienced guarantees are nugatory?
The Guardian columnist George Monbiot supplied a bleak evaluation on the week’s pronouncements.
“It’s the hope I can’t stand,” he mentioned. “Every few years, governments gather to make solemn promises about the action they will take to defend the living world, then break them before the ink is dry.
“Wherever Johnson has been, a trail of broken promises litters his path like roadkill.”
Tony Juniper, head of Natural England, prefers to give attention to potential. He advised me: “If you look at it in the round, the government has an awful lot of good policies in the pipeline. If they manage to deliver their programme it’ll be a huge achievement.”
He mentioned work was already underneath means to enhance biodiversity in areas protected primarily for panorama worth. If that succeeds, he mentioned, it will make the 30% safety determine extra spectacular.
Mr Juniper’s guarded optimism was echoed by Julian Glover, who carried out final 12 months’s government-funded assessment into National Parks.
He advised me: “This is a uncommon probability to get reform, funding and extra for nature and other people.
“Environmentalists are proper to level out immediately’s large issues however I hope they may use this opportunity to get change and never simply complain that as a result of issues for nature are sometimes dire now there is no probability of a authorities serving to make them higher.
“It’s good the PM desires to speak in regards to the challenge – let’s encourage him to again motion.”
It’s rumoured that Mr Johnson was prompted to make the recent flurry of green announcements after being embarrassed by the reaction to his derogatory comments about rare newts in a speech on planning.
The big question now is what will nudge him to put finance and targets to the ideas in his green in tray?
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