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IEEP UK | Event Recap: Divergence in EU/UK Biodiversity Targets

Today, wildlife-rich habitats and key species group numbers are in decline, prompting governments to produce legislation to protect them and reverse downward trends. In order to do so, the EU has proposed targets for biodiversity and nature conservation, as well as the UK, and its four constituent nations. However, the extent and scope of these protections need to be properly assessed to ensure that targets are to be met in the future. 

IEEP UK hosted a webinar to assess current proposals on biodiversity and nature restoration in the EU and UK, and analyse the main areas of divergence between them, as well as amongst the UK’s four nations. 

To date, the EU has agreed a set of non-binding biodiversity objectives and actions in its Biodiversity Strategy for 2030. Central to this is a new Nature Restoration Regulation (Restoration Law) proposed by the European Commission with legally binding restoration targets for ecosystems habitats and species. 

Within the UK, legally binding biodiversity targets in England have been proposed, while non-binding targets are yet to be published in Northern Ireland. Furthermore, legally binding targets are being developed in Scotland, and have been recommended to be so in Wales.

The EU’s Restoration Law offers legally binding restoration targets for ecosystems, habitats and species. If adopted in its current format, it will force Member States to develop national restoration plans with specific targets for ecosystems and EU protected species, including pollinators. The final goal aims to conserve at least 20% of the EU’s land and sea by 2030, and all ecosystems in need of restoration by 2050. 

In the UK, the proposed headline targets in England and Northern Ireland are broad, unquantified and ambiguous, particularly regarding their long-term aims. It appears that there are already potential areas of divergence concerning some targets: England’s 2022 Environmental Targets Consultation will set some legally binding targets to halt and reverse the decline of biodiversity by 2030, which are not found in Northern Ireland’s Environment Strategy. Furthermore, there are no proposed targets for habitats quality and species in Marine Protected Areas for overall species abundance in Northern Ireland. 

The main findings of IEEP’s report: “Divergence of environmental policy post Brexit: A comparison of biodiversity targets emerging in the EU and UK” were presented. For more information check out our Twitter thread

You can watch the entire event below: 

Insights from the panel

“The current proposals are to halt declines in species abundance by 2030 and increase them by 10% by 2042, and to reduce the risk of extinction of species by 2042 compared to 2022, based on the Red List index of extinction risk at a GB level. These are considered to be unambitious targets by some NGOs, especially for 2042, and certainly do not give a strong incentive for the most important conservation measures.”

— Graham Tucker, Senior Fellow, Institute for European Environmental Policy UK.

“The Bill laid in Parliament today (Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill 2022), is one that presents a real divergence risk between England and the EU. One that could determine all of the potential good work that comes through the targets framework in the Environment Act. Because the Environment Act targets are there to fill gaps, they are there to add to the body of environmental targets that we have inherited through our membership of the EU and exists largely through secondary legislation from the European Communities Act… All of these are absolutely fundamental to biodiversity.”

— Richard Benwell, Executive Executive, Wildlife and Countryside Link.

“Northern Ireland’s draft Environment Strategy was consulted at the start of this year and it is quite a wide-ranging document. There are six strategic environmental outcome areas, and two-hundred-and-twenty-five actions proposed. But within these, it’s a case of the good, the bad and the absent.” 

— Jane Clarke, Chair, Nature & Environmental Protection Working Group, Northern Ireland Environment Link.

“The Labour Government’s cooperation agreement with Plaid Cymru says that ‘targets have a role to play in helping to protect and restore biodiversity for species and habitats in our terrestrial and marine environments.’ While the climate change minister, Julie James, has spoken many times of wishing to set targets, and of setting the right targets, we still do not have a clear legislative timetable for those targets.”

— Meriel Harrison, Senior Policy Officer, Biodiversity Group, Wales Environment Link.  

“The Scottish Government and the Scottish Green Party established a cooperation agreement to work together for the next five years. This cooperation agreement was underpinned by the ‘Bute House Agreement’, a draft shared policy programme. This policy programme included a commitment to a Natural Environment Bill to be brought forward in 2023/24, which will include binding nature recovery targets as well as key legislative changes to protect and restore nature and deliver 30×30 objectives.”

— Isobel Mercer, Convenor, Scottish Environment Link. 

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