the headlines: one of president biden�*s closest aides has urged russia not to exploit the current shortages of energy supplies. the national security adviserjake sullivan told the bbc that moscow had previously used energy as a political weapon. he warned that doing so now would backfire. us senators have agreed to raise the country's ceiling for two months after republicans dropped their opposition to the increase. the cap on government borrowing was due to be reached within weeks. the compromise still has to be formally approved by both houses of congress. the united nations secretary general has condemned the inequalities in the global supply of covid vaccines as immoral and stupid. the united nations says it is hoping that 40% of people in all countries will be vaccinated by the end of the year.
now, it's time for hardtalk. welcome to hardtalk. i'm stephen sackur. today i've come to kew gardens in south—west london. this place is a botanical treasure trove, the largest single collection of living plants in the world, some of the specimens here collected by charles darwin himself. my guest is kew�*s director, richard deverell, who has big ambitions to put this place at the heart of the battle to avert global environmental catastrophe. butjust how realistic is that?
richard deverell, welcome to hardtalk. thank you. let me begin by asking you about your vision for this remarkable place, kew. do you see it as an institution devoted to science and research? or, fundamentally, is it one of the world's great visitor attractions? kew is a bit of both. i think at the heart of kew has always been science, our scientists and our scientific collections. but we also have this extraordinary living collection in the gardens just here. we have nearly 18,000 different species at kew. and that, of course, is at the heart of the visitor attraction, along with the beautiful buildings. it's a world heritage site. my vision for kew is that, fundamentally, we try and align everything we're doing to address these enormous global challenges we face as humanity, the biodiversity crisis and the climate crisis. and kew has to make a meaningful contribution to those big challenges. you make it sound as though you're bringing some sort of missionary zeal
to this job of yours. absolutely. kew is a public body. we have a sense, i think, of public good globally. i think one of the most important things we can do is to help the public understand the nature of these global challenges and, crucially, the solutions to these global challenges. there is missionary zeal. it's a very vocational culture here at kew. so is kew fundamentally changing? because kew has been here for centuries, and you're now saying, "well, our entire mission is about sustainability, "about delivering a message to the public "about the fragility of our planet." well, that wasn't the way in which kew was conceived, so is this a transformed kew? i think it's fair to say there is fundamental change. some things will stay the same. we will always have beautiful gardens with beautiful buildings, with extraordinary living collections. we will always have our cohort of scientists and our science collections. what is changing is the purpose
to which we apply those assets. in the 18th and 19th century, it was about economic botany. it was about empire, it was about trade. in the 19th/20th century, it was about documenting and understanding the diversity of plant life on earth, which still needs to be completed, but much progress has been made. now, i think it has to be about aligning everything we do to finding solutions to those global challenges and building the public understanding and support for protecting nature, ending the biodiversity crisis. so, yes, i think it is fair to say the institution is changing quite profoundly. now, i understand this is an amazing institution, and i think you have the largest single—site collection of living plants in the entire world. so that's something very special, but it still seems a little bit grandiose to go from that to saying that you feel you can be a significant player in the globalfight against climate change. well, we have to be realistic. kew is not a big organisation,
but i do think we can be influential. we have, for example, about 350 scientists working at kew, including a permanent research base in madagascar. we have nearly 3 million visitors to our two gardens each year, so we can influence public understanding of these issues and public attitudes. we have a strong relationship with the british government through defra and many, many governments around the world through our network of partnerships and seed banking. so, again, we can influence governments and, to an extent, government policy. and what matters to me is that we do all that we can. we're not going to solve climate change. of course not. we're not going to come up with all the solutions for nature—based addressing of greenhouse gas problems, but we can make a material contribution. now, greta thunberg tells us that we have to talk about a climate emergency. i think the ipcc, the panel on climate change, now says that the earth is on a code red. when you look at the relationship between a warming climate and biodiversity around this planet of ours,
do you share that sense of real urgency? i do. i absolutely do. and i think there's a pretty strong scientific consensus around this now, on exactly this point — a, that it's an emergency. words like "crisis" are entirelyjustified. david attenborough, as ever, has articulated it very well when he said, "what we do now and in the next few years "will materially shape the next few thousand years." i think that is right. i would also say that climate change is one of the principal causes now of biodiversity loss. it's probably the third main cause globally of biodiversity loss. and, of course, biodiversity loss reduces the planet's resilience to cope with the impacts of climate change, so biodiversity loss and climate change are, in my mind, at least, two sides of the same coin. i want to come back to the scale of the loss in a second, but i'm just very struck by something that tim harford, the respected economist, financial times writer, said recently. he said, "it is difficult
to use this word �*crisis�* "in connection to climate change, �*cause to most people, "this is something that's happening in slow motion." of course, in planetary time, it's very real and immediate, but to most people, they wake up in the morning and their lives are not immediately affected every single day by the changing climate. how do you make sure, here in kew, that people understand the urgency of the reality? tim is right. this is a really key challenge, this sense of urgency and the impact it's having on people here. and, of course, "here" is an affluent, temperate country. but even here, people are affected. look at the extraordinary rainfall patterns we've had in londonjust in the last month or two. more widely, look at the fires in greece or australia, look at the climate drought and the extreme temperatures in canada. so, it is starting to impinge on people, even in affluent, temperate communities. how do we influence people? we tell powerful stories.
we explain the consequences. for example, it's striking that 50% of all human calories come from just three plant species — rice, maize and wheat. many of those crops are going to be seriously challenged by new peak temperatures or prolonged periods of acidity. so for food security — feeding a growing population — reasons alone, we all need to be very concerned about the impacts of climate change. but do you also, then, wade into very complex debates about engineering of new genetic types of plant? do you tell the world that, "you know what? "given that we're at a world population of 8 billion "and it's going to go higher, "we need to embrace genetically modified plants." we would be mad to exclude genetic modification and gene editing as a potential tool in the battle against climate change, in the battle to provide food security to, as you say, a growing population. is it the role of kew to get involved in that kind of debate? so, it's not...
kew itself doesn't get involved in genetic modification. it is the role of kew, i think, to explain these issues to our visitors. we should be explaining why plants matter. we should be explaining contemporary issues in plant science and the relationships between plants and humanity. agriculture food is a very good example. 0ur big festival next summer is all on this subject, and we will touch upon genetic modification because it is one tool that can be used, potentially, to increase food yields, in particularfor the most vulnerable countries and communities in the world. and i think we'd be mad to reject it. now, you know as well as i do that some of the people visiting here in kew will not be as passionate in their advocacy of responding to climate change as you. some may indeed be a little bit sceptical. when you here at kew make these claims... i'm looking at one that a kew report has made recently that 40% of the world's plants are now threatened with extinction — can you really back that up with the science? we can, and we have a very
tight policy at kew of only making claims when they're supported by the science. kew is fundamentally a scientific institution, and the claims we make are based on the best available evidence... 40% of all the world's plants? and that is based on the extent to which natural ecosystems are being degraded. the vast majority of the earth's surface has already been degraded or lost as a result of human activity, so that is based on our understanding of global plant diversity. deforestation, of course, is a huge issue when it comes both to biodiversity and climate change that are clearly inextricably linked now. what efforts... ? again, i'mjust struggling to see, practically, what your attempt to be a sort of leader on this issue. what practical things can kew gardens do to address the problem of deforestation? well, i'll give you an example. kew can provide evidence — evidence that particular areas are special and merit protection. a good example is the ebo forest in cameroon. it's famous for a number of things, including its extraordinary floristic diversity,
but it's also the forest where chimps have been filmed using tools to break nuts, for instance. and kew provided the evidence to the cameroonian government that this particular area had an extraordinary number of endemic and endangered plants, and partly based on the evidence submitted by kew, the cameroonian government decided to protect that area from any future logging or degradation. and what's your position on reforestation? because, again, you speak with the authority of kew behind you. and i note, around the world, there are some governments really pushing hard on reforestation, tree planting. i think the pakistani government's committed to 10 billion trees planted over the next two or three years. tanzania's got a big replanting project too, but that isn't necessarily going to respect the original ecosystem, which has been ruined. now, do you see dangers in this massive—scale reforestation? yes. you mentioned earlier, none of this is without complexity. i'd say two things.
firstly, all of the evidence suggests the most important thing is to protect what you've already got. the most important thing is to protect existing forests. however, reforestation or restoration of forests can play an incredibly important role. i met the director of forestry in tanzania. i know the scale of what they need to do there. the key thing is is you plant the right tree in the right place for the right outcome. and, crucially, you plant trees that are going to be climate—resilient over 50 or 100 years, as the climate might change. even if they're not native? even if you're not respecting what was the ecosystem before man's exploitative greed ruined it? so, i think this is on a case—by—case basis. in some cases, non—native trees will be justified, if not essential, if the climate is going to change to such a point that native trees simply won't survive. in other cases, non—native trees can be hugely damaging. there are many parts of the world where there's been mass plantation of eucalypts, and they've caused enormous damage to soil health, to ecosystem. in tanzania again, i saw the extraordinarily damaging
consequences of non—native fir tree plantations, which are completely decimating native flora. so, the key thing is to have science—based decisions on the right tree in the right place for the right outcome. and that is entirely achievable, but it's secondary to protecting what you already have. we're speaking as world governments approach this cop26 meeting in glasgow, where they are supposed to gather and deliver new commitments to ensure that the planet doesn't warm more than 1.5 degrees celsius from pre—industrial levels. they all talk a good... well, most of them talk a very good game, but do you think the words are matched by actions? it's impossible to overstate the importance of this conference. the british government has rightly and proudly signed up to net zero by 2050... well, that's my point. i mean, governments are signing up to all sorts of targets and promises, but are the actions there? because, to quote the secretary general of the un, he said,
"we're way off course for actually delivering "on the emissions cuts we need." by 2035, we're supposed to be cutting emissions substantially. actually, it looks as though they'll be 16% more than they are today. he is right. we need other countries to commit to net zero by 2050 or sooner. and then crucially, to your point, we need an action plan starting now to deliver that. in addition, we need to address the global issues of equity here. broadly, the countries that are going to suffer most from climate change, the poorest countries in the world, are not those that cause it. and, therefore, one of the things that cop has to address is the global refinancing, to allow those countries to mitigate and adapt to climate change, though they didn't cause the problem. the one thing i would love to see at cop, which will not happen, is a global carbon tax. the economists agree that the principle that's just being ignored here is the polluter pays. at the moment, you can pump greenhouse gases into the atmosphere with no consequence, and that leads to a distorted incentive between greenhouse gas fuels versus clean fuels.
let me bring this close to home, on this question of whether deeds match words. here we are at kew gardens. just a few hundred metres away is the car park, with loads of fossil fuel—driven cars carrying visitors to your beautiful place, which you need to drive your revenues. they go to restaurants, where there's plenty of packaged food, much of it probably still in plastic. at christmas, they come to see the extravagant light display you put on. there are all sorts of different ways, and it may be small beer, but different ways in which it seems to me you're not actually, in your own backyard, making good on the words that you give me. we are not, but we will. we've committed to making the whole of kew net zero, environment—positive by 2030. that is ambitious, given we've got a victorian tropical glasshouse. we've removed single—use plastic, for instance. we have to electrify the entire site, entirely fuelled by renewable energy. so you're right, we're not today, but we launched our
sustainability strategy in april this year. we are absolutely committing to doing so. we have to speak with authority... will you close the car parks unless every vehicle there is electric? we are going to install electric charging points in the car park. and one of the things we're looking at are the so—called scope 3 emissions, ie, for instance, visitors visiting kew and how they get here. we do everything we can to encourage public transport. we're investing in cycle lanes, cycle parking, etc. our aim is that the organisation as a whole is net zero by 2030. there's another aspect of your leadership at kew that intrigues me. you have chosen to engage very actively with the debate about what this institution has come to represent in terms of the debate about colonialism and culture, and whether kew, along with many other pieces of uk history, has to reframe its own story to be more aware of the past.
tell me why you've engaged with this. i think we've engaged with it because it is... it is directly applicable to our public purpose, as set out, ultimately, in the heritage act that constitutes kew�*s governance. the reason is kew is a public body. we have to be here for everyone. we're part—funded through the general taxpayer. we're a charity. everyone should feel welcome at kew. everyone should feel that kew is doing something that matters to them and their lives or telling stories that are relevant to their lives, so i think it is essential that we re—examine our history, including our colonial imperial history. kew is absolutely a product of empire, without doubt... deeply rooted, to coin a phrase that's very relevant, "deeply rooted in colonialism." i think that's true, yes. kew was set up in the mid—19th century, its formation in the mid—19th century, in a sense, as a vehicle of empire. economic botany, moving valuable plants around the empire, was absolutely central to kew�*s public purpose... yeah, so this wasn't... from the very beginning, it
wasn'tjust a science project. it was also a commercial, exploitative project, exploiting indigenous peoples, their plant knowledge and their plants in the farest corners of the world. without doubt. kew, for 200—plus years, sent plant—collecting trips all around the world. now, those individuals on those trips were entirely reliant on local knowledge, understanding the attributes of plants, the location of plants — cinchona, for instance, the plant that provides the bark for malaria. it was local knowledge that identified the right species of cinchona tree with the most effective anti—malarial properties. so kew absolutely has travelled the world for 250 years, reliant upon local indigenous knowledge about plants, so we have benefited from that, and it's an integral part of our history. what matters to us now is we tell those stories fully. do you think it's time for you, as the leader of kew today, to issue a formal apology for the exploitation which underpinned kew�*s activities in the past?
i'm not sure that apologising would achieve anything. i think what matters is that we put in place now the right steps and the right actions that help us to address some of these issues, or the contemporary, the current consequences of these historic issues. so how do you do that? it's a number of things. one of the points i would make is that the collections we have here have been gathered from all around the world, including from many countries which are not well off, so one of the things we have to do is to make sure those collections are accessible all around the world, for example, through digitisation. another thing that we can do is to change and enrich the stories we are telling. we shouldn't shy away from the imperial history, but we should bring its contemporary relevance alive. a good example would be sugar. we have sugar cane growing in the glass house just over here. that plant has played an extraordinarily influential role in many people's lives, taken from new guinea, obviously to the caribbean, the slave trade, empire, wealth. many afro—caribbean living in britain today are possibly here because of that plant, and we would be remiss, if you stood in front of that plant and read the sign about it, not to tell those economic, historic and cultural stories. and that's what i mean
about the relevance of our storytelling. i suppose it's about how far you take this and the way you frame it. i mean, i think there's one remarkable statement in one of your manifesto documents, which says that kew has a declared aim now to "tackle structural racism in plant and fungal science." structural racism in plant science? is that a problem? i think, to me, this is about equity, ultimately. and i said before, kew is a public body available for everyone. i had a very interesting conversation with one of the young scientists working at kew. she's a woman, she's from an ethnic minority, a working—class background, and she described what it felt as an undergraduate coming to kew. she was passionate about plant science, she wanted to be
at kew, but how intimidated she felt approaching these, you know, august victorian gates and this great institution, and that's what we need to change. everyone should feel welcome here. everyone should be able to afford to come in and everyone should find stories and materials here that is relevant to them and they have equality of access to them. so, you would embrace the notion that this is kew going woke, would you? i don't use that word. i don't think it's helpful. i know what we're trying to do, and i know why its central to our purpose. it's just that, as i said before about climate advocacy, you know that some people are going to find this difficult to take, you know, for reasons which may be very personal to them. i'm looking at the words of one conservative mp in the house of commons, sirjohn hayes. he said, "it is preposterous posturing by people "completely out of touch with the sentiments "of a patriotic britain." that was his response to your words on addressing the colonial past. i'm immensely proud of kew�*s history.
i mean, i could take you around these gardens — i'm very knowledgeable about kew�*s history. i think we stand on the shoulders of giants, those victorian scientists that created the collections and the assets and the landscape that you see today. so, i am hugely proud of our history. but my point is that if you walk with me around the gardens — i mean, even just sitting here in this splendid location — do you really want this place, so beautiful, so calm, to become another battleground in the culture wars? no, of course not... but isn't that the danger? i don't think it is. i think what i've learnt with this experience is that people tend to assume you are doing things that you are not. we're not apologising. we're not censoring. we're not removing anything. we're not erasing history. 0n the contrary, we're trying to enrich it. if i were to take you down to the china grove near the pagoda, for instance, you would see new signs telling stories about chinese plants. it would acknowledge the roles that locals played. it would talk about the local use of those plants. it would give the chinese characters, the chinese name of those plants, and it would also bring some relevant historical references.
for example, the second 0pium warforced an opening of china, which allowed kew to send plant collectors to china, which is why today we have the best collection of chinese plants anywhere in the world. that was a consequence of the opium war, and we don't shy away from that. it's there on the sign. we're notjudging the opium war one way or another. we're talking about its relevance to kew�*s purpose, which was plant science, plant collecting and the plants you see around you today. so, i think what we're doing is really quite modest. it's enriching the stories we tell. it's about broadening the range of people who will engage with kew. we have to be for everyone. a final thought. throughout this interview, you've characterised this place as now a place which is involved in the battle for the future of the planet. do you fear a time when people, maybe only decades from now, might come to kew and might marvel at the diversity of plant life that we have destroyed and lost forever and that is only now to be seen in a protected
environment like this? sadly, that's already the case. we have plants in our collections here which are now extinct in the wild, some of which will never be recovered. for example, there's a cycad encephalitis woodii in the temperate house. the only known examples in the world are male. it will never reproduce sexually. other plants are known to now be extinct. there are no examples left anywhere in the world. we do our best through the work of the millennium seed bank to gather these seeds, to store them. it's an insurance policy against extinction. but i think the picture you paint is very real, and kew will do everything it can to end the biodiversity crisis and to minimise the further species that we're going to lose through habitat loss. richard deverell, a somewhat bleak way to end, but end we must. i thank you very much indeed for being on hardtalk. thank you.
hello again. thursday saw the arrival of some very warm air across the uk. temperatures leapt by about seven celsius. many of us had quite a bit of cloud, but we had some sunshine — for example, in north wales in denbighshire and next door to this in flintshire — that was where the warmest place in the country was. 22 degrees celsius the top temperature. that is eight degrees celsius warmer than it should be at this time of the year — the october average is 1a degrees. now, we've had extensive cloud across the north—west for both scotland and northern ireland. here, a slow—moving weather front has been bringing rain through thursday. we've got more rain to come overnight into friday, friday night and into saturday as well for some across
scotland and northern ireland because this front is barely budging. further southwards, well, we've got quite a bit of cloud reforming, some mist and fog patches turning quite dense. as well as that, there's a bit of drizzle around, so quite a murky start to the day for many in england and wales with that mist and fog and low cloud slow to thin and break. but eventually, come the afternoon, we should start to get some brighter weather through. the exception — well, for northern ireland and scotland, there's more rain here, heaviest in argyll and highland, and we've got a very weak weather front moving into east anglia and south—east england. that willjust thicken the cloud up enough to bring occasional spots of light rain or drizzle as well. but otherwise, very mild again — temperatures running into the low 20s. now this weekend, this cold front will start to push its way southwards. it is a weak front. it will bring some fresher air in from the north and west with temperatures easing down a few degrees as we go through the weekend. now, saturday — again, mist and fog patches to start the day across england and wales but probably a better chance of seeing some sunshine through the afternoon.
the rain in scotland and northern ireland actually starts to budge, so it should brighten up across the north—west of both later in the afternoon, but the rain heading into cumbria and northumberland. that same weather front is this stripe of cloud across east anglia and the south—east on sunday. might get an odd spit of rain but essentially, a lot of dry weather on sunday, again with some sunny spells around, a few showers in northern scotland with strengthening winds here and the temperatures easing down — 1a or 15 degrees scotland and northern ireland, the far north of england, still 17—19 across england and wales. but it'll continue to get a little bit fresher — those temperatures coming back closer to average in the week ahead.
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