Rishi Sunak is being urged by some of his own MPs to attend global wildlife negotiations in Canada next week, in a private letter warning vital talks could fail if leaders overlook it.
Some 40 parliamentarians, including five Conservative MPs and two Tory Lords, today wrote to the prime minister urging him to jet in for “the most significant political event for nature in a decade”.
The international nature talks, known as COP15, aim to get a grip on Earth’s spiraling biodiversity crisis, with one million species facing extinction and forest loss threatening water supplies and food production.
But heads of state have not been formally invited to attend the talks, chaired this year by China but hosted in Canada, with only a few thought to be even considering attending.
In comparison, at least 100 leaders flew in for the more high-profile climate negotiations, called COP27, in Egypt earlier this month.
“The absence of high-level engagement by heads of government around the world puts COP15 at risk of failure,” the group said in a private letter seen by Sky News.
Observers say the presence of world leaders at such negotiations injects momentum, sets political direction and empowers negotiators to press for harder deals.
A lack of high-level political attention risks a repeat of a 2009 climate summit in Copenhagen – where fraught talks collapsed – the group wrote.
“We cannot afford for that to happen,” at COP15, they said.
The event is called COP15 because it is the 15th time the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity has met since the first meeting in 1994. It is a separate event to the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the latest meeting of which took place at Sharm el Sheikh earlier this month, called COP27.
PM urged to ‘stand up for nature’
The signatories to the letter urged the PM to “stand up for nature” by attending the COP15, to hold bilateral meetings with other heads of government, and lobby for the aim to reverse nature’s decline by 2030.
That 2030 goal would be the nature equivalent to the climate change goal of limiting warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.
Lord Randall of Uxbridge, formerly a Conservative MP and Theresa May’s environment adviser, is one of just three publicly-named signatories.
“COP15 is the most important moment for nature in a decade,” said Lord Randall.
Mr Sunak should “think about ways in which he can engage with other heads of government while the talks are ongoing and ensure that COP15 is a Paris moment for nature”, he added.
He also said it would be “helpful” for the UK government finally to set its own, delayed targets to restore nature, as promised in the Environment Act.
Messaging from government ‘yet to give reassurance’
On Tuesday, the head of WWF-UK, Tanya Steele, also called on the PM to attend the talks, in a bid to replicate the UK’s leadership on climate in the intertwined nature sphere.
And the Wildlife Trusts’ Elliot Chapman-Jones told Sky News: “We need world leaders – including our own government – to signal that they grasp the scale of the challenge we face and, crucially, to agree ambitious targets for nature’s recovery.”
But “measures and messaging from government to date has yet to give us that reassurance”, he said, urging it to put in place legal targets to restore nature at home.
Although the UK is advocating for a global goal to protect 30% of land by 2030, and has set that target domestically, currently only 3.22% of the UK is protected at home “with no clear plan of how to reach 30% in the next seven years”, the Wildlife Trusts said.
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