Targets and strategies are only as good as the action actually taken…
A few broad messages emerged from our assessment, in relation to each of the six targets of the Biodiversity Strategy:
Just do it: full implementation of the EU Nature legislation: The establishment of the Natura 2000 network on almost 20% of EU’s terrestrial territory is a major achievement. However the sites now need conservation objectives, active management, monitoring and financing. BirdLife Europe assessed that only three EU Member States have set-up an adequate national framework for the management of their Natura 2000 network, while almost none of the EU Member States are sufficiently on track regarding the mobilisation of financial resources for Natura 2000. Equally vital are an increased enforcement to protect sites against damage and to prevent unsustainable and illegal exploitation of species and an improved monitoring of the status of sites and to assess the effect of management activities.
Tackle wider ecosystem conservation and restoration: The EU has adopted progressive pieces of ‘framework’ legislation on marine (2008) and freshwater (2000) ecosystem protection. However implementation of these directives is slow and a major gap remains- the lack of an EU Soil Framework Directive. By 2020, the EU has committed to increase knowledge of ecosystems and their services and to protect and restore them also outside of protected areas. Achieving this goal will only be possible through additional strong legal frameworks, appropriate financial incentives and more coordinated spatial planning. The new initiatives need to act as complements to the full implementation of EU nature conservation legislation. Unfortunately, the laudable EU initiatives on “Green Infrastructure” and “No Net Loss”, which are still under development, are not feeding into the main sectoral reforms currently underway, e.g. the Cohesion Policy. This means that the 2014-2020 EU Budget risks failing to deliver the support that is essential for the achievement of Target 2 of the EU Biodiversity Strategy.
Realign Agriculture and Forestry with their resource base: The conversion of semi-natural habitats and the continuing agricultural intensification are significant drivers of global and European biodiversity loss. The current reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is essential to reach the EU’s 2020 biodiversity target. The EU must reorient policy and spending towards supporting the delivery of public goods, including biodiversity conservation, and help restore the ecological base that underpins our food production. The European Commission’s modest proposals for greening the CAP are under attack by Member State Agricultural Ministers, who are yielding to private lobby pressures and do not seem to take public needs into account. Reform is needed to bring back wildlife and reduce pollution in intensive farming systems, while helping High Nature Value (HNV) farmers maintain their sustainable farming practices. Greening the CAP now is the last chance to legitimise Europe’s farm subsidies in times of budget crisis and make sure they deliver for the greater good of society.
Across the EU, even in legally designated Natura 2000 areas, unsustainable forestry management prevails over biodiversity friendly solutions. The fundamental cause for this lies in the continuing predominance of wood production as the main management objective, while other key forest functions are not sufficiently valued. Forests undisturbed by humans are estimated to amount to a mere 4% of forest areas in Europe. The EU should develop guidelines on criteria and indicators of Sustainable Forest Management as an instrument for an improved and harmonised interpretation and application of this concept through national legislation and sectoral programmes.
Put an end to overfishing and by-catch: The EU’s Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) is the other great driver of biodiversity collapse under the responsibility of the EU. 75% of assessed European fish stocks are overfished and fishing activities inflict widespread collateral damage on marine ecosystems, including seabirds and other marine wildlife. Excessive EU fleet capacity, built and modernised with EU subsidies, is one of the key problems with devastating effects also outside the EU. The reform of the CFP is an opportunity to rebuild fish stock, match fishing capacity to the resources available and promote and reward sustainable fishing practices, while eliminating the most damaging ones. Unfortunately, the relatively progressive proposals by the EU’s Fisheries Commissioner are meeting fierce resistance of lobbies and most EU Member States who ignore that the future of their sector depends on healthy seas.
Create a biosecurity framework for Europe: The damage caused by Invasive Alien Species (IAS) in the EU currently is estimated to cost at least 12 billion EUR per year and is expected to increase further. The EU institutions have recognised this problem. Supported by the European Council and European Parliament and following a stakeholder consultation process, the European Commission is now expected to publish legislative proposals before the end of 2012.
Reduce the EU’s negative footprint and stand up to our global responsibilities: The EU drives global biodiversity loss through some of its common policies, harmful subsidies, and the unsustainable production and consumption patterns in its 27 EU Member States. Despite first steps, notably the launch of its “Resource Efficiency Initiative”, the EU’s progress in reducing its global ecological footprint is far from sufficient. The risk of once again dramatically failing with the reform of environmentally harmful subsidies (e.g. CAP direct payments) could undermine the credibility the EU has built up as respected pioneer in biodiversity conservation.
Independently of this, the EU must mobilise additional financial resources to support developing countries in preserving biodiversity, through bilateral and multilateral mechanisms, as well as through the EU budget itself. The latter includes the need to finance biodiversity action on the EU’s own Overseas Countries and Territories (OCTs). The EU’s budget crisis cannot be used as an excuse to ignore this global environmental challenge that is greatly decisive for the well-being of Europeans. However, it is clear that public money cannot solve the problems alone: innovative and effective ways have to be found to mobilise resources from those who benefit from ecosystem services, and make the private sector pay where public goods are harmed or polluted.