No Net Loss of biodiversity and ecosystems: strong tools are needed
In times during which even legally protected habitats are still allowed to be destroyed and not compensated for (Grassland destruction across the EU), only strong legal frameworks will be able to achieve ‘No Net Loss’ of ecosystems in the EU. The mere set-up at EU level of a flexible framework for voluntary biodiversity offsets, as is being proposed by some, could result in the legitimisation of a ‘licence to trash’ without being able to enforce actual compensation.
A serious and effective No Net Loss approach should adopt a wide reaching scope including a strategy to restore a sound ecological baseline across Europe (Lack of restoration of peatlands in Ireland); the recognition of irreplaceable habitats and ecosystems; the drastic improvement of enforcement of the compensation schemes for damage done within Natura 2000 (Lack of compensation) and a biodiversity offset scheme for damage outside of protected areas that is based on robust principles and underpinned by legal control and enforcement frameworks. (BirdLife position on biodiversity offsets)
On the latter, some private actors have in various ways already shown leadership and value by going beyond their legal obligations in taking responsibility for their impact on biodiversity. (Cement Industry voluntary commitments; Wallasea Island restoration in England)
Green Infrastructure: From compensation to conservation and strategic restoration
Mitigation of impacts should not only be applied at project level. In the context of a No Net Loss approach, the large scale, cumulative and gradual impacts of encroachment, land sealing and urban sprawl should be accounted for. The upcoming EU Green Infrastructure Strategy would appear to be the adequate policy instrument to promote a systematic and integrated mechanism of large scale and planned mitigation, through the creation and restoration of Green Infrastructure elements. It would aim to “soften” our landscapes and ensure functional connectivity for various species. Businesses and land users should incorporate this way of thinking to their business model because ecosystem based solutions often are very cost-effective (Futurescapes projects).
Whereas biodiversity protection is currently being portrayed as a break on economic development by an increasing number of EU governments, EU Member States are failing to support sustainable, efficient and multifunctional development solutions (Ooijpolder climate buffer project).
Similarly, a voluntary approach to an ‘EU Green Infrastructure’ will not be sufficient; it needs to be resolutely integrated in the EU’s CAP (e.g. by introducing farm level Ecological Focus Areas) and Cohesion Policy (e.g. by channelling EU funds to large scale restoration projects) and a major awareness shift needs to be achieved with all economic sectors that use and impact on land. More on agriculture and the EU Biodiversity Strategy. Voluntary business schemes, contractual agreements and minimum legal requirements for land users should all be part of the mix of policy tools that could make No Net Loss a reality. The current proposals for sectoral policy reform (mainly for agriculture and Cohesion Policy) presented by the European Commission do not reflect this priority.