Green groups have responded with dismay to the detail of a new government amendment. Photograph: Jorg Greuel/Getty Images Green groups have responded with dismay to the detail of a new government amendment. Photograph: Jorg Greuel/Getty Images

Environment Bill: Dismay from green groups over detail of species target amendment

Green groups have responded with dismay to the detail of a new government amendment to the Environment Bill on species abundance, claiming that the wording falls short of the environment secretary's promise of delivering a “net zero for nature”.

In May, environment secretary George Eustice announced that the bill would be amended to include  a “legally binding target for species abundance” in 2030, describing it as a “net-zero for nature”. 

However, campaigners say that the wording of the government’s amendment to the bill, published yesterday, reflects a vaguer proposal; rather than set a firm commitment to halt the decline of species by 2030, it ensures that any target made or amended would “further the objective of halting a decline in the abundance of species” so long as the secretary of state is “satisfied” that it will do so.

The letter from the NGO coalition Wildlife and Countryside Link (WCL), which was co-signed by more than 30 other green groups, calls for the government to replace the word 'further' with the word 'meet'. 

It continues: “This misses the tremendous opportunity that a firm commitment to halt nature’s decline would bring: the regulatory certainty that could inspire businesses to invest in nature at scale; the political certainty needed to rally the whole government to the task of creating a sustainable economy; and the international credibility needed to show leadership on the international stage.”

The letter also raises concern about the implications of government amendments to the bill intended to reform the Habitats Regulations, which preside over many of the UK’s laws for protecting wildlife sites and species. 

In May, Eustice announced plans to “refocus” the regulations, “to ensure our legislation adequately supports our ambitions for nature, including our new world leading targets, rather than remaining tied to legacy EU legislation”.

On this, the WCL letters comments: “The stated justification was to bring those regulations into line with the new species abundance target - a target we now know is extremely weak.”

Commenting on the new amendment in a blog, Richard Benwell, WCL chief executive, said: “It merely requires government to set a target in October 2022, with the level of effort guided only by the need to contribute - in the secretary of state’s opinion - to “furthering” (not delivering) the objective of halting species decline.” 

He says replacing the word ‘further’ with ‘meet’ would “turn a vague exhortation into a clear requirement.”

In a statement issued in response to the WCL letter the environment secretary said: “We are heading into the G7 summit, and later this year COP26, as leaders on the world stage when it comes to the protection of the environment and nature. Claims to the contrary are wrong.

“Our landmark Environment Bill will include a duty for a new, historic legally binding target for species abundance for 2030, aiming to halt the decline of nature. The target will be developed alongside wider targets in the Bill through independent expert advice and engagement with stakeholders, and set following the agreement of global targets at the UN Nature Conference CBD COP15 this autumn.” 

DEFRA added that it would develop the 2030 species target following the agreement of global targets at the UN Nature Conference CBD COP15 this autumn. 

The latest update to the UK’s Biodiversity Indicators showed the UK is seeing no improvement on around half of its biodiversity targets, with the international community having also failed last year to achieve any of the 20 Aichi biodiversity targets agreed in Japan in 2010 to slow the loss of the natural world.

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