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It’s good to be able to join you today.

It was a pleasure to be part of Bright Blue’s Global Green Giant report – and I encourage everyone to read the wonderful collection of essays too. It’s an important piece of work.

Today is literally one year since I first stepped foot into my office as a minister – and found myself on the other side of the door I’d been bashing away at for years as a backbencher and before that a campaigner.

I’ve committed virtually my whole life to campaigning on environmental and conservation issues.

And so the role I was given by the PM was exhilarating. International environment and conservation, climate change and forests. And domestically the addition of animal welfare.

And being given three departmental hats to wear – DEFRA, DFiD and more recently the FCO – is an important reflection of the PM’s view that the environment isn’t just a box to tick in one corner of government – it is a thread that should run through our entire approach.

And I think it is one of the most important jobs of all.

Because although climate change and environmental destruction are unlikely to be the most immediate or direct concern for most people if they are asked – they are nevertheless the greatest threat to our families and indeed our species – and they are the greatest challenge we face, by far.


As with all speeches nowadays, the backdrop is Covid-19.

Because its impacts have been profound and because it affects everything.

It has exposed our vulnerabilities on many levels.

It is also a brutal reminder that despite our extraordinary cleverness as a species – we too often lack the wisdom to temper that cleverness.

We have long known for example that the majority of new infectious diseases are zoonotic … from HIV to Ebola, from SARS to Avian Flu – yet we have never really done anything to reduce or mitigate that risk.

On the contrary through our mistreatment of the natural world, we continue to great the ideal conditions for more such pandemics to come.

And it is also a wake up call. Not just in the narrow context of diseases. It goes much further than that.

Covid is itself a symptom of our abusive approach towards the natural world. But it’s just one of those symptoms.

Appalling though this experience has been for so many families and people around the world – the brutal truth is that it will be dwarfed by the effects of climate change and environmental degradation – unless we act fast and decisively.


Just look at where we are today.

In my lifetime – the blink of an eye in evolutionary terms – populations of animals, on average, have more than halved.

Right now, there are around a million species facing extinction.

Almost two thirds of our coastal wetlands are lost.

In June, the mercury rose to 38C in a small town in Siberia.

If the next 60 minutes or so that we will spend together are representative, then we will have lost around 1,800 football pitches worth of forest by the time the session ends.

In fact this year could be even worse.

In the first four months of 2020, deforestation in the Amazon rainforest for instance was about 50% higher than the same period last year.

The news just keeps rolling in.

Only a couple of weeks ago, the IUCN warned that species from African primates to North Atlantic whales are fading under the mounting pressure.

The IPCC, IPBES, the Global Commission on Adaptation, Professor Dasgupta’s review – they all tell the same sombre story.

Our ocean meanwhile is being choked with so much rubbish that by 2050 we are told that it will have more plastic than fish – as measured by weight.

Last year an expedition to remote, uninhabited Henderson Island in the Pitcairn group – almost 3,500 miles from New Zealand and South America – found its beaches inundated with plastic waste.

Around a third of marine mammals are threatened with extinction. More than a third of all fisheries are gone or on the brink.

For the first time in its 15-year history, environmental risks filled the top 5 places of the World Economic Forum’s Global Risk Report.

I could go on, and I’m sure others could add to that depressing list.

I don’t think words exist that really properly capture the tragedy that is unfolding.

The magical, dazzling and extraordinary diversity of life on earth is simply being extinguished.

Ecological treasures we haven’t even begun to understand, and in some cases we haven’t even discovered, are being lost forever.

Whole ecosystems are being turned upside down, or grubbed out – and we haven’t the faintest idea what the effects will be.

But it’s not just a biodiversity tragedy – it is also, clearly, a human tragedy that is unfolding.

We sometimes see well intentioned figures designed to demonstrate just how much we depend on nature.

It has been calculated for example that over half the world’s total GDP depends on nature – and that the annual cost of its destruction will reach $10 trillion.

But we can’t know that.

And logically – our very existence, and therefore all aspects of our economy – depend directly on the natural world that we inhabit.

We don’t always see that, because many of us are so used to being insulated from the natural world.

But that is not true for many hundreds of millions of people around the world who very directly depend on nature – and the free services it provides.

For example: a billion people depend on fish as their main source of protein, and a billion people depend for their livelihoods on those same forests we are wiping out.


As you know, we will be co-hosting the next – and all important Climate COP next year.

Our focus will naturally be on clean energy, zero-emissions vehicles, finance, adaptation and resilience, and more.

But at its core will be a major emphasis on nature .

We know that we cannot solve climate change without restoring and protecting nature on a massive scale.

The two crises are inextricably linked.

Indeed there is no pathway to net-zero – or the SDGs – that does not involve a massive scale up of nature based solutions.

They could provide a third of the cost-effective climate change mitigation we need, while helping communities adapt, reversing biodiversity loss and tackling poverty around the world.

Economists use an ugly term for this sort of thing. A solution multiplier. But that’s exactly what investing in nature is.

Investing in nature is a solution to Climate change, poverty prevention and alleviation, reversing the biodiversity crisis, even preventing future pandemics.

Indeed as we race, rightly, to find a Covid vaccine, we would do well to consider that the best way to inoculate ourselves against future disasters…like pandemics …is by profoundly re setting our relationship with nature.

But despite all that… despite the huge contribution that nature based solutions can make, just 3% of global climate funding is invested in nature. It makes no sense.

It makes even less sense when we consider that there is a growing market for the clean technology revolution; (it’s not big enough, but it’s there and growing fast).

But there is no such market for nature.

Just consider the Amazon. The whole world depends on it. We haven’t fully understood how, but we know we depend on it. But its value barely registers – we see it as work more dead than alive.

If you consider that the financial incentives to destroy forests outstrip the financial incentives to protect them by about 40 to 1, it’s not surprising.

At the last UNGA – our PM committed to doubling our ICF to up to £11.6bn –  And even more importantly, he pledged that much of that uplift will be invested in nature.

We need other countries to do the same.

And that is a core ask of the UK to the rest of the world in the run up to COP26.

But even if we succeed in getting other countries to scale up their investment in nature – we also know that the cost of renewing and protecting nature at a scale that matches the problem – is going to be much more than public money can provide.

So we will need to mobilise private finance too.

One of the barriers preventing action is that so much of what nature provides us is just not valued.

And so much of its destruction is not counted as a cost.

One way to shift the balance is through the development of trusted, authentic and reliable carbon markets.

I cannot think of a more effective way to get billions of pounds into nature restoration and I am convinced that must be a priority.

But there’s much more we can do.

For example – we must focus on the perverse incentives that are driving destruction.

Funding flows that destroy forests outstrip those in favour of protecting them by 40:1.

Currently the fifty biggest food-producing countries spend around $700bn a year in support for (often harmful) agriculture, with only a tiny percentage going to sustainable land use.

That’s around 4x all the world’s aid agencies combined.

Imagine the impact if that, or even a significant part of that, was redirected to reward sustainable practices that help protect the environment and provide sustainable livelihoods.

We will also be building alliances – north, south, producer and consumer countries, rich and poor – to remove deforestation from agricultural supply chains.

Around 80% of deforestation is caused by agriculture – the majority of it to grow commodities that we all consume. We have to be sure that when we import those commodities we do not import deforestation.

Unfortunately, we are doing that today. If you look at they commodities which we import, and forget everything else, they alone increase the UK’s environmental footprint by 80-90%.


At this stage, I don’t believe anyone can pretend that our collective response matches the scale of the challenge. By that I don’t mean the UK’s response, I mean the world’s response. No government is doing enough.

But we know that to speak authoritatively on the world stage, we need to get our own house in order here in the UK.

We are going to have a big megaphone over the next 18 months, and we need to make sure that other countries are willing to listen to us.

And we are undoubtedly making progress.

We’ve made a legally-binding commitment to reach net-zero by 2050 – the first industrial economy to do so.

We’re mandating biodiversity net-gain for housing development.

We are planting trees on 30,000 hectares of land per year by 2025, and have established a £640m Nature for Climate Fund to help us do it.

Our landmark Environment Bill will tackle air and water quality, biodiversity loss, waste and more – and will set us on track to improve the state of British nature year after year.

Our Agriculture Bill removes the destructive and discredited CAP subsidies – based largely on rewarding people for converting land into farmland, no matter what they do with it – and replaces it with a system that rewards environmental stewardship. Public money in return for public goods. I believe we are the only country working to shift those land use subsidies, so we are in a good position to make the case internationally.

We are also laying the foundations of a Nature Recovery Network that will create or restore 500,000 hectares of wildlife-rich habitat across England.

We will build on work to rewild and reintroduce native species – like beavers building damns that slow the flow of water through the landscape, alleviating flood risk in a changing climate and more besides.

Our Blue Belt of marine protected areas around our Overseas Territories – which are home to around 90% of our endemic species – is on track to protect an area of ocean the size of India – from the biodiversity jewel of Ascension Island, to the sub-Antarctic wilderness of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands.


And we have, in addition to our domestic action, massively expanded our international offer.

On the back of the PM’s commitment to doubling our ICF to up to £11.6bn, we are currently developing brilliant programmes around the world to reverse these trends.

We’ve already protected 20,000 hectares of Madagascan mangroves, to improve the lives of around 100,000 people, store carbon, and support fisheries – and we’re helping communities restore mangroves across Indonesia, Latin America, and the Caribbean.

We will shortly launch a new £500 million Blue Planet Fund to help countries protect marine resources from threats like climate change, plastic pollution and overfishing.

Since 2018, we’ve committed up to £70m to tackling plastic waste – through a Commonwealth Clean Ocean Alliance of 34 nations (more than half of the Commonwealth), funding global research through our Commonwealth Litter Programme, and preventing plastic from entering the ocean through the Global Ghost Gear Initiative.

We have formed a new Global Ocean Alliance of countries committing to protect at least 30% of the global ocean in Marine Protected Areas by 2030.

25 countries have already signed up, and more should be coming.

We have created a new £100m Biodiverse Landscapes Fund to protect precious but threatened biodiversity hotspots in at least five territories.

We have trebled the world respected Darwin Initiative, which supports sustainable livelihoods and endangered species worldwide.

We have boosted our funding to tackle the grim Illegal Wildlife Trade –the 4th biggest organised crime sector in the world after guns, drugs and women.

…And much, much more to come!


I want to end where I began, with COVID 19.

Because in this tragedy, there is also an opportunity.

As countries set about rebuilding their economies, as we all will, we have a chance to do things differently and better.

Governments everywhere are planning for economic recovery – I believe $9 trillion have already been put aside for the global recovery.

And how that money is spent will have ramifications for generations.

They can stick with the status quo; bailing out high-carbon, environmentally damaging industries, and locking in decades of emissions and environmental destruction.

Or they can choose to make environmental sustainability and resilience the blueprint for recovery.

I am delighted that our Prime Minister has committed to “Build back better and build back greener.”


We are committed to doing all we can to turn things around.

But we cannot do it alone.

And so much of our work in the run up to COP will be building alliances of countries and businesses willing to go much further – on targets to protect the natural world, on supply chains, on land-use subsidies, on ‘net zero’ emissions, and on commitments to greatly increase support for nature-based solutions, etc.

The pandemic has illustrated the folly of waging war on nature.

It is a gigantic wake up call.

And it feels to me that the world is now ready to collectively agree a new covenant with nature; a moment to profoundly re-set of our relationship with this, the only planet that can sustain us.

Thank you.


The keynote speech was followed by a Q&A session.

The Rt Hon Lord Goldsmith is the Minister of State for the Pacific, Environment and Conservation