Developments in EU and UK biodiversity law and a global approach

As COP27 considers increased action to halt biodiversity loss, both the EU and the UK have committed – through the development of the Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 and the Environment Act 2021 respectively – to the adoption and satisfaction of legally-binding targets in an effort to halt biodiversity loss and engender its restoration in their territories. 

The setting of targets for biodiversity to 2030 will form an integral part of the upcoming delayed 15th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (“COP15”) which will take place from 7 to 19 December 2022. In that context, both the EU and the UK are seeking to leverage their global influence to play a role in the setting of ambitious international targets.  

The EU’s negotiating mandate expressly recognises the fact that climate change and biodiversity crises, desertification, pollution, as well as land, water and ocean degradation are strongly interconnected and reinforce each other and can only be successfully addressed in a coherent approach with strong social and environmental safeguards, including nature-based solutions.

A status check of their present position is provided below.

The EU’s Biodiversity Measures

As part of the European Green Deal’s expansive umbrella set of measures, the Biodiversity Strategy seeks to put Europe’s biodiversity on the path to recovery by 2030. Key aspects include:

  • the adoption of binding targets to halt biodiversity loss in Europe;
  • the widening of the EU network of protected areas and the development of an EU Nature Restoration Plan; and
  • negotiating an agreement for a biodiversity governance framework at COP15. 

The European Commission adopted a proposal for a Nature Restoration Regulation in June 2022. The proposal would combine a target for the long-term recovery of nature with binding restoration targets for specific habits and species (including forest, urban, agricultural, marine and river ecosystems, and pollinating insects). Together, these measures should cover at least 20% of the EU’s land and seas by 2030 and all ecosystems requiring restoration by 2050. 

More recently, the EU has committed to supporting adequate resource mobilisation for biodiversity, and pledged to double external funding for biodiversity, in particular for the most vulnerable countries around the world. It has also committed to lead by example by fully mainstreaming biodiversity into all relevant sectoral and cross-sectoral plans and policies at EU, national and local levels, ensuring a whole-of-government and whole-of-society approach.

The UK’s Biodiversity Measures

The UK has sought to improve its biodiversity through the Environment Act 2021 (“EA 2021). 

There are two key biodiversity measures in the EA 2021: 

  • the introduction of biodiversity net gain (“BNG”) obligations (whereby planning permissions and development consents require the approval of a BNG plan); and 
  • the requirement to set at least one long-term target relating to biodiversity.

DEFRA has proposed and consulted on the following biodiversity targets:

  • to halt the decline in species abundance by 2030 and increase it by at least 10% by 2042, compared to 2030 levels;
  • to improve the England-level GB Red List Index for species extinction risk by 2042, compared to 2022 levels;
  • to create or restore in excess of 500,000 hectares of wildlife-rich habitats outside protected sites by 2042, compared to 2022 levels; and
  • to put 70% of the designated features in the Marine Protected Areas network (a network spanning 40% of English waters) in favourable condition by 2042, with the remainder in recovering condition.

The final targets were due to be published by the end of October 2022. More recently DEFRA has stated that the volume of material emanating from the consultation exercise has delayed publication.

The Global Impact 

The EU is striving to play a role in brokering an agreement for a biodiversity governance framework at COP15. That framework is intended to ensure transformative action by all countries and all stakeholders throughout the UN System. In pursuit of that framework, the EU has proposed targets to be adopted at COP 15 and achieved by 2030, including:

  • conserving at least 30% of global land and oceans;
  • restoring 3 billion hectares of degraded land, freshwater and ocean ecosystems;
  • halting human-induced extinctions of known threated species; and
  • addressing land and sea-use change negatively affecting biodiversity in all ecosystems.

The first of these targets forms the centrepiece of the UK’s proposed approach. Like many other countries, the UK has called for the adoption of the “30by30” target to protect at least 30% of land and oceans by 2030. 

The domestic targets for the EU (and when set the UK) are different to those that the EU and UK wish to adopt at a global level. The EU’s internal targets are quite specific (i.e. they target particular eco-systems or species), while their proposed global targets are more generic in nature. Broader targets are hoped to garner greater international buy-in. 

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Key contacts

Olivia Jamison
T +44 20 7367 2055
Benjamin Collins
T +44 20 7367 3733
Alexandra Brown