Meriel Harrison argues that Wales must set ambitious Nature Positive targets to reverse the curve of biodiversity loss
Wales needs to act now to turn around a legacy of wildlife loss that has left 1 in 6 species at risk of extinction.
In June 2021 the Senedd declared a nature emergency amid a growing realisation of the ongoing decline in biodiversity in Wales, and of the importance of nature for our wellbeing and our economy. Calls for a new global goal to be ‘Nature Positive’ could provide a North star to drive and guide nature’s recovery, in the same way Net Zero has helped raise awareness of the impact of greenhouse gas emissions on the climate.
Being Nature Positive means bending the curve of biodiversity loss so that by 2030 it is on an upward trajectory
Put simply, being Nature Positive means bending the curve of biodiversity loss so that by 2030 it is on an upward trajectory and we have more nature than we had in 2020. Looking beyond 2030, it means that ‘by 2050 biodiversity is valued, conserved, restored and wisely used, increasing and developing supplies of ecosystem services, to sustain a healthy planet and deliver benefits essential for all people’ (CBD 2050 Vision). These essential benefits, or ecosystem services, include sustainable food production, fresh air and clean water, protection from flooding and support for mental and physical health and well-being.
The concept and definition of Nature Positive as a global goal for inclusion in the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework is supported by a broad range of international NGOs and experts. The final wording of the global goals and targets in this Framework will be agreed by governments from around the world at the CBD COP15 summit, which has been delayed several times due to the Covid-19 pandemic but is expected to take place later this year.
In 2021 the G7 leaders signed a 2030 Nature Compact which said that ‘our world must not only become net zero, but also nature positive’ and committed to a global mission to halt and reverse biodiversity loss by 2030. The Welsh Government will need to play its part in delivering on this commitment, and has signed the Edinburgh Declaration emphasising the role of sub-national and devolved governments in achieving the transformational change that is needed to hit global targets.
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The last time that global nature targets were set, most countries – including the UK – failed to meet them, resulting in a lost decade for nature. Stark evidence on the condition of protected sites in Wales shows a failure by the Welsh Government to invest in even the basics of nature conservation. We are now in the last-chance saloon, and there is simply no more time to waste. This decade must be one of deeds rather than warm words, and past experience shows that there are three crucial ingredients needed make sure that the new targets are achieved in Wales – ambition, action and accountability.
The Welsh Government will need to translate the global targets agreed at COP15 into a strategy for domestic implementation. As one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world, the ambitions of this strategy will need to be high enough to bend the curve of biodiversity loss quickly and see real results by 2030.
In 2021 the Senedd declared a nature emergency and the Welsh Government committed to bringing forward legally binding targets for nature recovery. Yet to date there has been no meaningful progress towards setting these targets, beyond a statement of support from the Welsh Government for a target to protect 30% of land and sea for nature by 2030. Domestic legislation should include a duty on Ministers to achieve a Nature Positive Wales by 2030; as with the Net Zero target, this will need a response from all government departments.
Nature loss is driven by a complex range of pressures including the way that land and sea is used and managed, the impacts of climate change, and pollution of the water, land and air. These pressures cannot be adequately addressed through siloed biodiversity-focused strategies and projects. Achieving Nature Positive requires new ways of thinking and decision-making which recognise nature recovery as a public good that will need better support from the public purse, as well as innovative forms of private investment to meet the significant funding need.
Without ways to hold Governments to account for delivering results, nature targets and action plans simply aren’t worth the paper they are written on.
With farmed land covering over 80% of Wales, the development of a new post-Brexit Sustainable Farming Scheme for Wales is a huge opportunity to ensure that payments to farmers deliver transformational benefits for nature and in turn for people. In the marine environment, better spatial planning must be a priority for the Welsh Government so that new developments don’t result in further damage to vulnerable species and habitats.
A major failure of the last decade was the lack of repercussions for failures in meeting targets. Without ways to hold Governments to account for delivering results, nature targets and action plans simply aren’t worth the paper they are written on. This is another reason why setting legally binding long-term and interim targets, via legislation that places a duty on Ministers to actually deliver these targets, is vital.
Adding to the case for bringing forward new environmental legislation is the urgent need to fill the yawning environmental governance gap that has opened up in Wales, recently highlighted by over 30 health and environmental organisations. As a consequence of Brexit, citizens in Wales can no longer look to Europe to ensure that environmental principles are upheld and environmental laws are obeyed. Every other country in the UK has now filled this gap through the establishment of independent environmental governance watchdogs that can hold Governments and public bodies to account, yet despite four years of promises no such body has yet been established in Wales.
Achieving a Nature Positive Wales means acting now: choosing the right strategies, policies and actions to halt the current decreasing trends in biodiversity loss and reverse these so that by 2030 nature is visibly and measurably improving. It can be done, and, for the sake of Wales’s wildlife and future generations who have the right see nature not only survive but thrive, it must be done.
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