Environment Secretary speech at Wildlife Trusts event

On 20 June 2023, the Environment Secretary delivered a speech at a Wildlife Trusts event on the importance of nature recovery and biodiversity

The Rt Hon Thérèse Coffey MP

It is a pleasure to join you, to see the Wildlife Trusts and Hogan Lovells working together – in partnership, and to see Aviva investing £38 million in the Wildlife Trusts’ exciting new project supporting our unique carbon-rich, biodiverse British rainforests. That is exactly the sort of ambition, commitment and partnership we need to see.

And I am conscious there are people here from a wide variety of organisations today and I am delighted that all of you are here, helping us keep nature at the top of the agenda, across so many sectors – and it’s a particularly poignant moment to think just over six months after the successful conclusion of CBD, COP15, that new global nature agreement to halt and reverse the loss of biodiversity. It is that commitment by 2030 that we all need to play a part in.

So thinking about what came out of that, there are plenty of targets. These are stretching targets for every country, but they are global targets. And it really matters that this is a global effort. It’s a shared endeavour, whether it’s 30 by 30, whether it’s also the first time we’ll have proper metrics, proper reporting, that is so important.

And I think that it is critical to bring business into this as opposed to something quite nebulous. And we’re still at the start of that journey. It matters that we get more engagement from the private sector as well, who can help shape some of that. I am proud that that UK now is at the forefront of efforts to implement that new global nature agreement.

There’s a variety of ways that we’re intending to do that. We have to always be driven by science. Science has the power to make all our efforts more effective and world-class UK expertise is leading the way, right around the world, from the IPCC and IPBES, and some of our most treasured British institutions, from Kew to the Natural History Museum, to our £40 million investment in a new Global Centre on Biodiversity for Climate, that will draw together expertise from across disciplines and around the world, to rapidly scale up investment in nature.

I am conscious there are a few corporates here today, the Digital Sequence Information (DSI) was a critical element of getting that agreement last December, and Lord Benyon is hosting roundtables with UK businesses - if you’re not invited to them or not aware of them, we are keen to hear from the industry on how you can help shape that.

Indeed, the UK is harnessing the growing global momentum on efforts to help mobilise at least $200 billion for nature – by 2030. Within a couple of months of that agreement being secured, we convened a global summit at Lancaster House to discuss next steps on nature finance, building on a temporary plan that had been a key way to convince countries around the world about signing up to the global GBF.

We also made sure that we were proactive about side events at the World Bank meetings earlier this year, too. So we do think that we’re playing a part in helping more countries around the world to develop the finance plans they need to back nature and shift harmful subsidies towards solutions. We are using our influence as major donors to the big multilateral development banks to get them on the ball, including the World Bank. And of course, our £500 million Blue Planet Fund is designed to draw wider investments into our efforts, help coastal communities protect and restore the marine environment, and some of the most important, and some of the most fragile, areas of the ocean.

And we do need to keep up that momentum. I’m very conscious the clock is ticking towards Turkey next year. And by then there’s a lot to have got in place. Tomorrow, I’m travelling to Paris to co-host with my French counterpart a gathering of ambitious environment ministers and world experts, to discuss further ways about raising finance for nature, including high integrity, global biodiversity credit markets. We want to get lots of great people involved in turning our ambitions into actions, from the finance sector, but actually from all sectors around the world. So I’d like to think this is a global effort. But we’ve got to do all this at home.

We started the year by launching our Environmental Improvement Plan. We set out the next wave of action that we need across governments across the economy, and around the country, to help us meet the stretching, environmental targets that we have put into law. And I’m delighted that in the months ahead, we will work closely with the Wildlife Trusts and others as we prepare the UK countrywide response on the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan. And that will set out how we will work together to meet our commitments and encourage other countries to do similar. There is already a significant amount of work underway, our £750 million investment into the Nature and Climate Fund is starting to help us increase forest cover and restore our peatlands. And we have designed new and improved schemes with our farmers - the Environment Land Management scheme will reward them for their environmental work alongside the support for sustainable food production.

We are trying to make schemes where they can work together, and again attract investment from private sector and philanthropic partners to help nature thrive on a landscape scale. In particular, yesterday, we brought farming and finance together at Number 10, to discuss what needs to happen to take that to the next level. And candidly, these are still early days, so we are learning from the new pioneers and different people that are involved, including the Green Finance Institute. And this is one of the things that is critical, and perhaps where the UK actually has a different way of being unique - I was at Hyderabad in India just a few days ago at the G20 Agriculture and my ministry covers environment and agriculture, no one else in the G20 does that. In fact you would struggle to find any other government in the world that made that has move and we made that move a long time ago. We are working across government as well, to make sure that when we are considering policies, the environmental principles policy statement applies across government. That is where some people are ahead of the game, for example, legislating to make sure that we have 10 percent biodiversity net gain for any development. And we are keen to get more sustainable, homegrown timber that we need.

So action on investments, action on driving activity, with public money. Of course every government can and should choose to invest more in action and to use taxpayers’ money in a way that underpins the public good rather than undermines it. And that’s what our electorate, what our citizens rightly expect us to do. And I think that we are on a good journey with that. But with the best will in the world, the public purse will only stretch so far.

And that is key to the 10 point plan, in that thinking about how we bring in extra resources in a coordinated way. So this is where a lot of businesses need to join us and to help us come up with the programmes that you think you will put your money in. We are beginning to grasp only now the future risks and very real impacts on businesses. And economics show us this is vital. We can provide and we need to provide essential, effective cost effective solutions to many of the greatest challenges that we face. There is the immense potential for nature to generate a long term return for investors who get ahead of the game now, and indeed a steady stream of income for people who look after nature.

So hopefully around the world we’re encouraging these institutions in every sector to step up, by investing more in nature and committing to aligning their activities and their entire portfolios. By doing that, they are committing to our shared survival and success. We need to harness momentum for nature, in the way we have already done for climate. I hope that we are making it easier for you to get stuck in and work with us to see this through, wherever we can.

And that is why we are now rewriting the rules where that is what is needed to get our whole economies moving trillions of dollars of private finance, away from destruction, and towards sustainability, resilience, and renewal as well – as customers, clients, and investors everywhere increasingly expect all of us to do, from making the market more hostile to the illegal wildlife trade, to requiring businesses to do due diligence on their supply chains. We want to know how are you taking action to use precious, finite natural resources much more sustainably.

How are you designing waste out of the system? What are you doing to make sure people know whether pension fund managers are using their hard-earned money in a way that prioritises the future for which they are saving? I know when I ran DWP, of course, we bought regulations in about climate and net zero. This year, we have set out a clear framework setting out the principles and priorities for investment in nature in our country. And there is an enormous range of work underway to consolidate City of London as the leading global hub for green finance.

For example we are working in partnership with the British Standards Institute to develop a shared understanding of what really adds to the positive side of the sustainability balance sheet – and frankly what is greenwashing. We are helping farmers and land managers gain clarity on what counts as high-integrity when they are selling those vital ecosystem services, as well giving responsible businesses the confidence they need to invest in nature. That includes the pipeline of projects we are supporting through our Natural Environment Investment Readiness Fund. The first two rounds have provided grants of up to £100,000 to support 86 projects, and they are now beginning to attract private investment. We are investing £30 million of public money in a forthcoming blended Big Nature Impact Fund – to help us work together to plant more woodland, restore precious peatland and create new habitats, and bring green jobs to communities across the county.

And we are working on a shared vision for the emerging high-integrity climate and nature markets that have the potential to help us all do more, right around the world. Critically, that includes supporting the work of the Taskforce on Nature-Related Financial Disclosures and Transition Plan Taskforce. We are making sure there is room for the frontrunners who want to go further, as a global baseline for taking account of biodiversity begins to cohere. And alongside other initiatives, I encourage as many of you as possible to feed into their work – ahead of the launch this September – so the tools we end up with are useful for you, as you make decisions, and get to grips with the mapping the risk throughout your supply chains.

Really, this is a bit of a call to action. We all need to make it easier for all of us to work together – so more of you feel confident about investing in nature, as part of your plans to improve the productivity, profitability, sustainability, and resilience of your businesses. And whichever way you look at it – the bottom line is that it makes good business sense to get ahead on the challenges of nature as we pick up the pace on the transition towards a much more sustainable way of doings.

The imperative to act will only grow. First movers can keep costs down as well as manage future risk, and maximise opportunity and impact as well. And, while this is not easy, if we keep the spotlight on nature and step up – publicly, then together, we can make a massive difference, inspire others, and help tip the balance in favour of more prosperous, healthy, and hopeful future for generations to come.

Thank you because the reason you’re here I guess is that you are interested in getting involved in this. Come and help us create something that’s going to be truly special, which you will be proud of the future generations.

Thank you.

Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs
The Rt Hon Thérèse Coffey MP