There can be no ‘business as usual’ while climate change risks all

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By Daniel Carey-Dawes
19th May 2019

Two major global reports on climate breakdown and ecological crisis show why CPRE sees climate as the biggest threat to our countryside.

The spring of 2019 saw the publication of a series of seminal reports on the two biggest challenges facing the countryside: climate breakdown and the ecological crisis facing plant and animal species. The conclusions of each of these have been stark.

According to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), we have just 12 years in which we can act to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Even half a degree more than that would significantly increase the chances of droughts, floods and other extreme weather events.

In May 2019, the UN Global Assessment of Nature – underpinned by no fewer than 15,000 sources – found that a million animal and plant species are threatened with extinction, primarily due to how we use our land.

For everyone who cares about our countryside, these two reports represent an apocalyptic vision for its future. A future where plant and animal species are driven out of existence. A future where we see more extreme weather such as heatwaves and stronger, more powerful storms whilst rising sea levels threaten coastlines and low-lying territories. They are, unarguably, the greatest threat facing the countryside now and at any point in CPRE’s history.

‘We cannot continue as we are’

A ‘business as usual’ approach to these challenges risks destroying the very countryside that we have successfully campaigned to enhance, promote and protect for nearly 100 years. Put simply, we cannot continue as we are. Not if we want future generations to enjoy a biologically rich, fertile countryside that we celebrate for its intrinsic value as much as we do for providing us with key ‘eco’ services such as food, fresh water and physical and psychological benefits.

While it would be understandable to despair at the scale of the challenge, we should take comfort from the fact that solutions are close at hand. Many of the initiatives to mitigate and adapt to climate change will have knock-on benefits for biodiversity.

'A 'business as usual' approach to these challenges risks destroying the very countryside that we have successfully campaigned to enhance, promote and protect for nearly 100 years.'

In May 2019, the Committee on Climate Change published its long-awaited advice to the government on cutting greenhouse gas emissions to nearly zero by 2050, setting out how this could be achieved. Its primary conclusion is that net-zero is possible by 2050 – but only with transformative changes to the way that we all live our lives. From more energy-efficient buildings to constraining aviation growth, an early phase-out of polluting cars to a shift to a circular economy, much will need to change.

The political reaction to these reports tells us much about what we must do as campaigners in order to secure stronger policy from the government. Speaking at the launch of the Net Zero Report, Business Secretary Greg Clark said: ‘We know we must do more – and we will do more.’ The rhetoric is solid but we need a step-change in a whole raft of policies from the government.

CPRE steps up

In the weeks and months ahead, CPRE will be redoubling its efforts to ensure the government is held to its commitment – whether through our work with partners in the Climate Coalition at the mass lobby of Parliament on 26 June 2019, our ongoing campaign against the fast-tracking of fracking through the planning system or our work through Greener UK calling for a really ambitious Environment Bill that includes meaningful actions to combat the climatic and ecological crisis facing our countryside.

There can be no return to business as usual. Either we change our relationship with the planet we all share, or we lose the biodiverse and climatically stable countryside that we have fought so hard to conserve for the past century. We have no choice but to act.

CPRE staff at climate strike protest
CPRE national office staff gather for a group shot to mark the charity's participation in the 2019 global climate strike