|Setting ambitious targets under the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD)
The MSFD requires EU Member States to take measures to achieve Good Environmental Status (GES) of all European marine waters by 2020. It is the greatest opportunity in a generation to restore the health of our seas in a way that does not exclude human use but incorporates it, by reducing pressures upon the marine environment. The MSFD also has specific requirements to ensure that marine bird populations are healthy and in line with natural conditions. It should therefore be treated by Member States as a priority driver for proactively improving the environment, which in turn leads to significant economic benefits.As such, however, BirdLife and other environmental NGOs have expressed concern about the lack of desire by many Member States to deliver real improvements to the marine environment by 2020, and the low ambition shown in the recently released characteristics and targets for achieving GES (see useful links).
Much is made that we don’t know enough about current impacts, and in many cases this is used as a justification for not setting ambitious targets to restore and improve the marine environment. However, in the face of pressures on the marine environment, the Precautionary Principle demands more ambitious targets in such cases of uncertainty, to avoid adverse impacts before they occur. This should include setting quantifiable targets where possible, as recommended by the Commission itself.
As well as this, Member States sharing the same marine area (such as the North Sea) appear to be defining GES in different ways, for example for the level of acceptable fishing activity. In some cases, such as the UK, the targets for commercial fish are also currently inconsistent with or weaker than the official UK position on reform of the Common Fisheries Policy, despite admitting that the CFP will not be sufficient on its own to meet GES for commercial fish stocks.
Over the next few months, Member States will be presenting their marine strategies to the European Commission, and BirdLife shall be keeping up the pressure to make sure that Good Environmental Status actually means something for our increasingly threatened seas.
RSPB (BirdLife partner in the UK)
Alec Taylor, alec.taylor(at)rspb.org.uk