Environment Secretary speech at Natural History Museum

Thank you for joining us bright and early and thank you to the staff of the Natural History Museum for hosting us here before they open their doors to the public this morning as they have done for generations.

We are proud to be backing your important work. And we are fortunate to have this cathedral of nature consecrated to 4.5 billion years of natural history to the pursuit of science and to the study and appreciation of the world’s flora and fauna right here, in our capital city.

So it’s hard to think of a more inspiring place for us to meet as I call on all of you to help us come together to secure the future of life on earth and a better future for every generation to come.

When I visited the Museum recently some of the scientists here reminded me that just five years ago, in Hintze Hall a diplodocus would have greeted us.

But it is right that we are now dwarfed by the awesome, twenty-five-metre skeleton of a blue whale the largest animal that has ever existed bigger even than the biggest dinosaur.

Forty years ago – following a coordinated campaign from schoolchildren and conservation experts alike – including many of the organisations you represent, sea-going nations from around the world came together at the Metropole Hotel in Brighton and agreed a moratorium on commercial whaling.

In a global move to bring species back from the brink of extinction and find more peaceful ways of appreciating these wonderful creatures.

As Environment Minister, a few years ago I had the privilege of watching humpback whales from a boat in Petite Passage, Nova Scotia and it was a profoundly moving experience.

And while this work is ongoing, we should take heart from what we have achieved and our commitment to seeing it through. Because it seemed impossible until it was done.

Because with blue whale populations now recovering Sir David Attenborough is right to say that ‘Hope’ is an important emblem of what we can achieve.

And because sharing success is so important at a time when we need to steel our resolve to work together to solve so many challenges when we need to renew the trust between people and power around the world and when we must make the most of the UN nature conference, CBD COP15 in Montreal.

For far too long the Cinderella of the story, it’s cinderellas time to shine but now rightly recognised by all of us here – as our best chance yet to secure the decade of action we need.

I am proud that the UK laid the groundwork for success in Montreal through our presidency of COP26 – the climate COP – in Glasgow.

Together, we brought nature – land and ocean – and effective, cost-effective nature-based solutions from the margins of the global debate into the heart of our collective response to the causes and impacts of climate change for the first time securing unprecedented investment in nature – land and ocean from all sources, public, private and philanthropic

, including greater global backing for natural wonders on which the whole world depends from the Amazon to the Congo Basin and accelerating the economic shifts that are already underway to make sure every dollar in our economies takes us closer to our shared goals.

At COP27 in Egypt, I saw the legacy of COP26 alive and kicking not least in the way countries and companies are now honouring their commitments – including on forests – and building on them as well.

We are engaging the United Arab Emirates as hosts of COP28 next year to make sure we

And in all of this, our ability to lead depends on our longstanding, ongoing commitment – across government to identify and then use every lever we have to leave the environment in a better state than we found it

From the way we work with the private sector, including the financial sector

– to secure the public good – to the way we use public money to support the production of food. Something I spoke to our famers about last week so we make the most of our newfound freedoms and our landmark legislation to make timely progress on meeting our domestic targets to reach net-zero by 2050 and halt the decline of nature by 2030.

In support of that target I am delighted to announce that, this spring we will launch a new multi-million pound fund to create and restore wildlife-rich habitats, including on protected sites from scrub, to wetlands and grasslands where each investment will secure multiple benefits for nature, climate, and people and encourage opportunities for private funding by backing underfunded projects that give us the biggest bang for our buck.

By making good on our commitment to double UK international climate finance to 11.6 billion pounds and to spend at least 3 billion on nature, including through our newly established 500 million pound Blue Planet Fund and our 100 million pound Biodiverse Landscapes Fund.

We are building on decades of experience backing efforts to take on the whole host of threats that now face the world’s flora and fauna – well beyond climate change alone through the Blue Belt programme, protecting an area of ocean larger than India around our biodiverse Overseas Territories, our world-renowned 39 million pound Darwin Initiative and the Illegal Wildlife Trade Challenge Fund.

And whether it’s taking on illegal, unregulated, and unreported fishing persuading countries to agree a new, legally-binding global treaty to end plastic pollution, by 2040 or supporting efforts to establish a global gold standard for taking nature into account across our economies on the world stage and behind the scenes the UK is leading, co-leading, and actively supporting the global coalitions that are committed to securing the maximum possible ambition and achieving the greatest possible impact.

That includes our approach to the UN nature conference that kicked off yesterday.

Our world-class UK negotiating team are in the hot-seat building on four years of talks with the support of our world-class scientists from a range of institutions, including Kew Gardens and JNCC.

And later this week, I will lead a team of ministers from Defra, the FCDO and the Treasury, working as one to persuade our counterparts from around the world to give their negotiators the political backing they need to build consensus around a robust, ambitious global framework for action that will put nature on a road to recovery, this decade.

That must include targets to protect at least 30% of the world’s land and at least 30% of the global ocean, by 2030 and to see natural systems restored, populations of species recovering, and extinctions halted by 2050 alongside strengthened reporting and review mechanisms that will hold all of us to account for the promises we make and commitments to work in partnership with indigenous peoples and local communities, who depend on nature most directly and understand it so deeply so we make sure everyone feels the benefit of seeing this through.

And we know that demonstrating our collective willingness and ability to close the finance gap for nature is key to unlocking the ambition we need in Montreal.

And that is why the UK has been working with our friends in Ecuador, Gabon, and the Maldives to develop a 10 Point Plan for Financing Biodiversity, an ambitious, credible blueprint for action that increases our chances of achieving consensus by making sure that any government approaching the negotiations in good faith will be able to see a potential solution to their concerns.

Our Plan commands the confidence of developed and developing countries spanning five continents – and counting.

We are doing all we can to persuade others to endorse it.

And I hope that you too will help us to gather further support in this final furlong – and beyond.

Ultimately, we all know that there is a long road between where we stand today, and where we need to be.

In national parks in South Africa I have seen how the illegal wildlife trade pits people and wildlife against one another with devastating consequences for all.

On visits to small island states I have heard what it means for communities when their homelands face an existential threat.

And the evidence for why this is so urgent is now all around us in the wisdom of indigenous people and local communities, in the science and in events on every continent.

But I genuinely believe that if we work together to make the road ahead a road to recovery, we stand not just to avoid the worst impacts but to save precious species by securing the diversity, abundance and connectivity of life on Earth that will also help to bolster the peace and prosperity we all want to see and fundamentally to improve the lives of people at home and around the world for generations to come as well.

The UK is committed to playing our part and to continuing to work with all of you and our friends around the world to see this through.

The action you take can have a massive impact and you have the power to inspire others to step up as well.

So once again, I want to thank you for joining us and I urge you to keep up the good work.

Thank you very much.

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