Statutory nature recovery targets can prevent another lost decade for nature in Scotland

01 Jun 2021

Mass extinction

We are living through a mass extinction.  Since 1970, our world has seen a drop of almost 70 per cent in the average population of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and fish, and over a quarter of assessed species are now threatened by extinction.  While developing countries in sub-Sahara Africa and South Asia repeatedly suffer first and worst, wealth isn’t a shield.  Scotland is a wealthy nation, yet half of all our species are in decline, with 1 in 9 at risk of extinction, and two-thirds of our peatlands – vital natural infrastructure in the battle against climate change – are degraded. Time is running out, by setting ambitious, legally binding nature recovery targets, the new Scottish Government can revive nature in Scotland and make an important contribution to global restoration.

A natural starting point

When we want to achieve something, setting a target is a natural starting point, whether in our personal lives, in business or in government. Targets allow us to monitor our rate of improvement against a clear objective, meaning we can adjust our approach accordingly to stay on goal.  When we’re open and honest about our plans with others, it helps us feel accountable and motivates us to keep on track.  To achieve that sense of accountability with government, Nature Recovery Targets must be statutory, with regular progress reports.  It means citizens can hold the government to account on overall progress and hold industry to account on sectoral-specific targets.

The Scottish Government already measures progress against agreed targets on issues as diverse as child poverty, social housing, and climate change.  If we want to restore nature in Scotland, adopting legally binding Nature Recovery Targets is a logical first step.  Effective targets would measure species abundance, distribution and extinction risk; the quality, extent and connectivity of habitats, and contributions towards our collective goal, with sectoral-specific targets.

Scotland cannot be left behind

This year, at the beginning of the UN Decade of Ecosystem Restoration, the UK Government and the EU Commission are on course to set legally binding Nature Recovery Targets for England and the European Union, respectively.  Scotland cannot be left behind.  We need our own statutory Nature Recovery Targets, committing our government to revive Scotland’s species and habitats, with communities, businesses, local authorities, and government agencies all playing their part.

By inviting the Scottish Green Party to participate in formal talks, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has shown that her new government is open to a more consensus-based politics. With three out of five parties in the Scottish Parliament already supporting statutory Nature Recovery Targets, there is a clear opportunity for the Scottish Government to embrace genuine cross-party consensus while keeping pace with the rest of the UK and the EU. Statutory Nature Recovery Targets is an idea whose time has come.

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