The IR’s new approach to climate change and biodiversity loss

By Emma Burrows, James Inch

The Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy (the Integrated Review) includes significant new thinking on how the UK must work collaboratively to accelerate the global response to climate change. It outlines how the UK must invest in approaches to reverse climate change and biodiversity loss, recognising that our window of opportunity is shrinking. It clearly asserts that a transnational response is required to ensure survivability, avoid further humanitarian crises and prevent conflict escalation.

‘Building resilience at home and overseas’ to tackle climate change and biodiversity loss is identified as the UK’s number one international priority. The focus is rightly on seizing the opportunity to transition to a zero-carbon ‘nature positive’ economy and putting innovation at the centre of our challenge-led approach as we build back from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Integrated Review sets out six priority actions, including the need to accelerate the UK’s transition to net zero by 2050 and reverse biodiversity loss by 2030. This emphasises the significance of COP26 in Glasgow, presenting a generational opportunity to elevate the UK’s approach to climate change, agree mitigation measures, devise multilateral approaches, and finance the imperative.

Collaborative action

The review is a positive step towards elevating climate change and climate security, building on the UK government’s existing successes. It recognises that this stance is crucial for credibility, prosperity, and for the UK’s relevance as a responsible power within the new global order. A co-ordinated national response offers a route to inspire the next generation of leaders and propel the UK on the world stage.

However, there is a lack of detail on the complex delivery challenges needed to meet the ambition. Success depends on developing a suite of coherent departmental strategies, global collaboration and metrics aligned to the UN Sustainability Development Goals to promote international standardisation.

Sector strategies such as the upcoming Defence Climate Change and Sustainability Review need to provide more detail on implementation and funding plans to generate the momentum required to achieve the Integrated Review’s six priority areas. A critical pan-government integration function must be created with a diverse set of capabilities, harnessing the full force of government’s extended network. Ensuring the UK’s approach is coherent and comprehensive on a transnational basis is central to this integrated approach.

The scale of ambition requires international partnerships to bring in regulatory diplomacy and new types of treaties that can deal with future uncertainty. The UK needs to develop non-traditional partnering models and innovative leadership, building new and strengthening existing relationships across the globe to maximise the unique value each partner can bring.

Accelerating momentum

The Integrated Review builds on the positive momentum the UK has demonstrated in tackling climate change, reducing carbon emissions fastest within the G20 and being the first major economy to adopt a legal obligation to achieve net zero by 2050. It sets out an ambitious vision for the UK to become a leading responsible global power.

To achieve its objectives, and demonstrate global leadership in advance of COP26, the UK needs an integrated approach across departments and international boundaries. While this challenge shouldn’t be underestimated, the UK’s collaborative response to the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrates how government and society can cross boundaries to innovatively address global threats.

Momentum must be accelerated and underpinned by supporting departmental strategies, aligned with the six Integrated Review priorities, which leverage the substantial financing and investment opportunities.

It’s clear the consequences of failing to act are stark. The UK has an opportunity to display bold international leadership to create policies and strategies to measure success. New adaptive 30-year+ treaties will be needed that bring integration to life in the fight against climate change and biodiversity loss.

About the authors

Emma Burrows Defence and security expert
James Inch Defence and security expert

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