Ireland must back up biodiversity ambition at Cop15 with greater protection of land

Ireland must move to protect 30 per cent of its land by 2030 if it wants to show leadership in the global response to the biodiversity crisis, according to Pádraic Fogarty of the Irish Wildlife Trust.

Speaking at Cop15 in Montreal, he welcomed Minister for Heritage Malcolm Noonan’s strong backing for ambitious action on nature loss.

Ireland has backed the EU position, which is part of a “high ambition coalition for nature” of countries at Cop15. But this required moving to protect 30 per cent of its land by the end of the coming decade, Mr Fogarty said. “That would show leadership within the context of this coalition,” he said.

The Government has committed to protecting 30 per cent of its marine waters by 2030, but has yet to commit a similar level of protection to its land.

Mr Fogarty, who is an observer at Cop15, said the land target was contained in the first draft of a revised national biodiversity action plan (NBAP) published last year but was later removed amid unease about land protection. “But that’s really more about how we do it; rather than the idea behind it,” he added.

The Government should first and foremost be showing commitment by using public land to create new protected areas for nature, Mr Fogarty said. After that, new ways could be found to protect private land including farmland – and to incentivise protection, he believed.

The potential from such a move could be seen in the context of the Government owning about 10 per cent of land, while Coillte owned 8 per cent, he pointed out.

At an NGO meeting with the Minister on Thursday, there was no progress on this, Mr Fogarty said. He appreciated you have to work with farmers but “this is not showing the leadership that Ireland is claiming to be showing”.

Likewise, there was a clear need to reduce pesticides by 66 per cent as called for by many countries, he said, while the EU was advocating for a 50 per cent cut in the coming years, a position Ireland is backing.

Ireland, Mr Fogarty said, was not supporting a new global biodiversity fund, and again aligning with the EU in insisting other funding sources could be found instead to halt and restore nature loss. “But I would hope that Ireland would be generous and be supportive of moves to increase funding … We’re taking about the future of life on Earth. We can’t come down to a grubby deal over how many millions is given to the cause. It’s something we have to do.”

Addressing the high-level ministerial segment of the UN conference, Mr Noonan said Ireland was committed to supporting an ambitious global biodiversity framework to halt and reverse biodiversity loss “but we are not waiting for these negotiations to act”.

“We are currently developing our fourth national biodiversity action plan under our Convention on Biological Diversity obligations, which will integrate all of the above, as well as our further ambitions to engage with the EU’s nature restoration law and protected area targets, and the outcomes of this summit,” he said.

The NBAP would also be put on a statutory footing next year, he confirmed, and stronger biodiversity responsibilities placed on public bodies put into legislation.

A memorandum is to be brought to Cabinet shortly seeking to restore the 2016 Wildlife (Amendment) Bill, he confirmed in Montreal. Once enacted, it would require public bodies to submit regular reports outlining measures they are undertaking under relevant biodiversity plans, programmes or strategies, such as the NBAP.

Following consultation, the Minister may direct relevant bodies to adopt specific actions, he said. Separately, the Biodiversity Forum will continue its work on the review of implementation of the NBAP.

“These proposals will significantly enhance Ireland’s ability to implement biodiversity action across the country. This couldn’t come at a more crucial time. As 196 nations come together to agree an ambitious new set of global goals for nature at Cop15, we know that what really matters is what happens on the ground. That’s what these new legislative measures are focusing on,” Mr Noonan said.

The revised Wildlife Act would also give legal effect to the proposed reconfiguration of the raised bog natural heritage area network. “This reconfiguration of the network of nationally protected raised bogs will help achieve national conservation objectives for this important habitat, which can have enormous value for biodiversity, as well as carbon sequestration and storage, water purification and flood mitigation,” he said.

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