Last week I was proud to support the declaration of a nature emergency in Wales. Of the 6,500 species found here that have been assessed using the IUCN Regional Red List criteria, 8% are formally classified as threatened compared to 7% in 2016. Furthermore, The State of Natural Resources Report 2020 highlights that Wales has not met any of its four aims on the sustainable management of natural resources approach.
We were reminded of the severity of the situation last month by the third UK Climate Change Risk Assessment which found that 26 risks from climate change in Wales have increased in urgency score. These include the risks to terrestrial species, habitats, agriculture, and forestry from pests and pathogens and invasive species, with gaps in policy such as lack of enhanced monitoring, surveillance and early response measures.
Additionally there are the risks to marine species, habitats, and fisheries from changing climatic conditions, with current policy lacking detailed actions that include specific outcomes for the marine sector, plans for progress and reporting that recognise the scale of climate change risks. In fact, climate change measures have potential to harm nature, such as the planting of trees in inappropriate places, and poorly located renewable energy infrastructure, so I was pleased to call for specific action on biodiversity loss.
Nature cannot play second fiddle to the climate, which is why I reiterated my calls for the establishment of statutory targets by the Welsh Government. This is an area of policy the UK Government is leading the way on as part of the Environment Bill 2019-21. Likewise, Wales needs to establish an environmental watchdog. As of this month, England will have a new Interim Office for Environmental Protection which will provide independent oversight of the Government’s environmental progress and accelerate the foundation of the full body. In comparison, what we currently have in Wales is a temporary environmental protection assessor.
It is expected that the Welsh Government will develop a permanent environmental governance oversight body during the next two years, but their commitment to doing so must be questioned again because their own Programme for Government does not include plans for establishing a new system of environmental governance.