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West Midlands Natural Environment Plan: 2021 - 2026

The regional context

In June 2019, WMCA declared a climate emergency and in July 2019 a target date of 2041 was established for the region to achieve net zero carbon emissions. In January 2020, the WMCA strategy (#WM2041: Actions to meet the climate crisis with inclusivity, prosperity and fairness8) was launched. This plan cut across the different actions that would be required to achieve the 2041 goal in a way that supported inclusive growth across the region. The natural environment played a key role in the strategy in terms of supporting resilience and adaptation; providing a route to mitigate climate change; and recognising the importance of green space for people across the region as part of a balanced and inclusive West Midlands.

The recognition of the multifunctional benefits of nature continued in the follow-up paper that went to the Combined Authority Board in June 2020 (WM2041:A Programme for Implementing an Environmental Recovery9).This paper set out the urgent activity and need for the WMCA and stakeholders to produce five-year delivery plans (four in total) in support of delivering the zero carbon target for the West Midlands by 2041.

The first of these WM2041 Five Year Plans (FYPs) was approved by the WMCA Board in March 2021 and has implications for regional natural environment programmes.

In terms of our natural environment specifically, we know that we need to work hard to address inequalities of access to green and blue space that were magnified during the first Covid-19 lockdown. In response to this, the WMCA commissioned the New Economics Foundation (NEF) to produce a report on access to green space across the West Midlands. The data provided through the NEF report has now been turned into a publicly accessible data platform10 that highlights parts of the WMCA (by Lower Super Output Area) where there is low access to green space. Addressing these issues of inequality is an important part of our work on the natural environment; the Community Green Grants scheme that we are establishing will be a route to support action to redress the inequalities identified.

The WMCA has also launched the Virtual Forest website11, as part of the commitment to plant more trees across the region. This is providing a focal point for people to register trees that have been planted and to share information about events and opportunities. This will be increasingly important as the WMCA accelerates delivery based on evidence in the first WM2041 Five Year Plan12. This indicates that there needs to be a significant uplift in the tree planting effort across the region to support delivery of the net zero target – our FYP indicates that this will mean planting an additional 5.7 million trees by 2026.

We have taken a broad approach to the natural environment in this plan and, through other work that we will be undertaking, will also be exploring the potential for using natural capital to support adaptation to climate impacts as well as improving air quality.