Chris Packham is urging the British prime minister, Rishi Sunak, to attend a key nature summit to protect the planet for the sake of his great-grandchildren because we are “very close to the point of no return”.
The Cop15 biodiversity summit being held in Montreal from 7-19 December is the nature equivalent of the recent Cop27 climate summit in Egypt, with governments from all over the world expected to agree targets to halt the destruction of the natural world. But world leaders are not expected to attend the once-in-a-decade meeting where the next 10 years of targets will be agreed.
“Sunak ought to be looking further into the future, to protect the planet, not for himself, but for his great-grandchildren, if he’s in that way motivated, because environmental care isn’t about the next five minutes, it’s about the next 500 years,” the TV presenter and campaigner told the Guardian. “And that’s what none of these numpties can grasp, or want to grasp. Because all they can see is short-termism, which is about making short-term fixes so that they can get another short term of power, if they can possibly get their grubby hands on it.”
World leaders have not been invited to Cop15 and there are fears that the summit will not be treated with the importance it deserves.
The climate crisis is one of the main drivers of biodiversity decline and scientists say we will be unable to reach climate targets without addressing the biodiversity crisis. “These Cops, 27 and 15, are implicitly important, because all of the science is saying to us that we are very close to the point of no return,” said Packham.
“Cop, after Cop, after Cop, with cop-out, after cop-out, after cop-out, is not serving humanity or the planet. The importance of these things needs to be better understood. And that better understanding ought to be coming from our leaders. That’s what they’re there for. They’re there to lead. And they’re not, globally, and certainly not in the UK.”
Packham is joined by the UK’s leading conservation charities in urging Sunak to push for a deal that will reverse wildlife decline globally by 2030. The RSPB, the Woodland Trust, Wildlife Trusts and Plantlife have set out a campaign called Urgent Conversation, which includes a petition asking Sunak to attend the conference and “secure the strong global deal required to end the nature crisis”.
Sunak initially said he would not attend the Cop27 climate conference, but U-turned after pressure from supporters of the UK’s net zero goals from within the Conservative party, as well as international criticism about showing a lack of leadership. A Downing Street spokesperson said the prime minister does not plan to attend Cop15.
Wildlife organisations say the nature deal must set out goals to prevent extinctions and restore habitats that will result in halting and reversing biodiversity decline by 2030, as well as protecting 30% of land and sea.
The UK is among the most nature-depleted countries in the world, with more than two-thirds of land now used for agriculture. Globally, wildlife populations have plunged by an average of 69% in just under 50 years, research shows.
Beccy Speight, chief executive officer of the RSPB, said: “We can’t go on like this. It’s time to have the urgent conversation that our leaders have been avoiding. The world desperately needs a shared plan for restoring nature and Rishi Sunak must play a leading role in securing a strong deal at Cop15.”
Dara McAnulty, the author of Diary of a Young Naturalist, said: “Cop15 is a really important moment for trying to reverse biodiversity loss. All these countries with different government systems, different people, different cultures, working together … It’s really important for young people to speak out about biodiversity loss because this is our future … We can do this if we can all work together and shout from the rooftop.”
A UK government spokesperson said: “The government remains absolutely committed to leading international and domestic action to tackle climate change and protect nature. The UK will be represented at Cop15 by the environment secretary.”