My Department, through its National Parks and Wildlife Service, is the lead authority for development and coordination of biodiversity policy in the State. This includes fulfilling Ireland’s obligations under a range of international agreements and conventions on nature. The UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), underpins much of global biodiversity policy and its 15th Conference of the Parties is due to take place later this year, having been delayed due to the Covid pandemic from its original dates in November 2020.
The EU Biodiversity Strategy 2030, launched by the European Commission in May 2020, proposes that by 2030, member states legally protect at least 30% of the EU’s land and marine areas, and that 10% (or one-third of the protected areas) would be strictly protected. This is an overall EU target and discussions around how this will be achieved are still ongoing; fair and transparent burden-sharing among member states is a crucial consideration in discussions around implementation of the Strategy at national level. Nonetheless, the EU Strategy will form the basis of the positions to be adopted by the EU and its Member States at COP15.
The High Ambition Coalition (HAC) for Nature and People is an intergovernmental group co-chaired by Costa Rica and France, and the United Kingdom as Ocean co-chair to mobilise political will for nature and biodiversity. Membership of the HAC currently includes 50 governments across Africa, Asia, Europe, Oceania and the Americas. This includes Ireland following my announcement of our intention to support the HAC last Monday, 11 January. The aim of the Coalition is to help achieve an ambitious global deal for nature and people, at COP15, that can halt the accelerating loss of biodiversity and protect vital ecosystems that safeguard human health and economic security. A key element of such a deal is to protect at least 30% of the planet’s land and ocean by 2030, known as the "30x30 target".
The increased percentage of designated land for protected areas is crucial to the EU Biodiversity Strategy but will require significant buy-in across the EU from agriculture and landowners. This will be one of the key challenges of implementing the Strategy. The Commission and member states will agree on criteria and guidance for identifying and designating additional areas, as well as further information on definition of protection, later this year. Member states will be obliged to demonstrate significant progress in designating the required new protected areas and integrating ecological corridors by end 2023; on this basis the Commission will assess in 2024 whether new EU legislation or other further actions should be proposed.
Ireland is at the early stages of developing a network of marine protected areas (that will include SACs and SPAs designated under the Nature Directives). In addition, NPWS and Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine are cooperating on exploring the overlaps of the Biodiversity Strategy with the EU "Farm to Fork" policy in agriculture; and more generally, examining the resources and funding which will be needed for restoration, and with regard to implications for farming, forestry, fisheries and the commercial activities associated with implementation of the Strategy.
The EU Strategy also calls for the updating of National Biodiversity Strategic Action Plans (NBAP) in 2021. Ireland has carried out an interim review of its current NBAP and the process of developing a new NBAP will get underway this year. The outcome of the COP15 and the agreement of a post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework, along with the EU Biodiversity Strategy, and the existing national policy and legislative framework for biodiversity and nature, will underpin the objectives, targets and actions of an ambitious and transformative National Biodiversity Action Plan to carry on the important work that is already underway across government in implementing the current NBAP which runs from 2017 to 2021.