Europe and Central Asia
6 Jun 2016

Being 'Nature Alert' in Amsterdam

Will the Commission publish the results of its 'fitness check' of the Nature Directives? © Javier Milla/Flickr
By Mike Walker

UPDATE (8 June): The Dutch Presidency has cancelled the Amsterdam Conference as the European Commission has not yet published the findings of the Fitness Check of the Nature Directives. Read BirdLife Europe's response here, and the one from WWF here.

There are only a few weeks left until the Dutch EU Presidency’s conference on Future-Proof Nature Policy. The objective of the conference is to present and consider the findings of the Commission’s “fitness check” of the Birds and Habitats Directives and how to improve the implementation of EU nature policy.

But there’s a snag: there’s a risk that no results will be presented. The European Commission is inexplicably delaying its decision on the fitness check and publication of the evidence. A  Commission no show would turn the Amsterdam Conference into a damp squib instead of a vindication of the laws that protect the EU’s nature.

The Commission launched the “fitness check” over a year ago, with an “indicative” plan to publish it now, the second quarter of 2016. The report findings are meant to inform the drafting of a “communication” to Council (Member State ministers) and the Parliament on how to better implement the Nature Directives. According to the description of the Amsterdam conference, the report will “conclude that, though we are making progress, it is not enough. The question we will address at the conference will therefore be how we can improve the implementation of nature policy”.

Good to know, but where is the evidence - the actual report? No sign of it yet; and the longer it is withheld, the more serious the worries that the enemies of nature might be lobbying behind the scenes to bury a conclusion that doesn’t fit with their deregulation agenda.

The conference organisers are inviting participants “to bring forward their ideas on issues that arise when implementing the Birds and Habitats Directives. [They] will discuss how [they] can improve the implementation of the Directives”. Undoubtedly there are many opinions of how to do that. On 13 April BirdLife published its own assessment of the fitness of the Directives: From Nature Alert to Action. So in the absence of any Commission report being published before the conference, From Nature Alert to Action is a good preparatory document.

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Among other things, the BirdLife report finds that inadequate implementation of the Directives has led to a decline in biodiversity, including the loss of species that depend on farmland. And without full implementation, a further loss of biodiversity cannot be prevented. Problems with implementation, investment, and policy integration are hindering realising the Directives’ objectives and correspondingly, the full benefits. There is ample evidence that where the legislation is implemented properly, nature flourishes.

Given the fact that the conference is now only days away and theCommission is yet to publish the “fitness check”, the risk that the conference will turn into a fiasco is imminent. BirdLife and other organisations have been urging the Commission to not waste time, take the right decision and move on. Throughout Europe the #NatureAlert campaign is as lively as ever. On 16 May, over 11,700 people participated in 24 Thunderclaps on social media, sending a clear message to the Commission that citizens expect action on saving nature, including the publication of the “fitness check” report.

Our WWF colleagues have been 'turning up the volume' on nature with a pan-European campaign that targets environment ministers. Until the end of June, in 16 European countries, people can create their own nature songs on the campaign’s website using the sounds of various natural elements and key European species. Then through the website they can send these songs, along with a message to protect the EU’s nature laws, to their national environment ministers and the European Commission.

We are all going to be out in force in Amsterdam with a clear message: The biodiversity crisis cannot afford more withering and dithering. The fitness check has shown where the problems are; now we need bold action to address them.

Stichting BirdLife Europe gratefully acknowledges financial support from the European Commission. All content and opinions expressed on these pages are solely those of Stichting BirdLife Europe.