Europe and Central Asia
15 Dec 2015

Is the EU on track to save biodiversity? The short answer is no

The IBA in Caldeirao do Corvo, Portugal. Photo: Pedro Geraldes
By Sanya Khetani-Shah

In 2010, the EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2020 – which commits the European Commission, the European Parliament and the EU Member States to take action on all key drivers of biodiversity loss and degradation of ecosystem services – was adopted and endorsed by all the stakeholders.

The six targets of the strategy each address a different cause of biodiversity loss: lack of implementation of existing legislation, deterioration and loss of ecosystems, unsustainable agriculture, unsustainable fisheries, invasive alien species and the ecological footprint of the EU on the rest of the world.

At the halfway point in 2015, BirdLife International assessed the progress of the EU in our report Halfway There?. Our conclusion was that we are far from our goals.

Under Target 1, European leaders agreed to stop the deterioration in the status of all species and habitats covered by EU nature legislation and to bring 50% more species and a 100% more habitats in a good conservation status.

Our current progress? According to the EEA report the State of Nature in the EU, 8% more bird species, 5% more of other species and 4% more habitats are in a good conservation status. Some conservation successes notwithstanding (for example, there are now 30 times more White-headed Ducks than in 1977), some species and habitats are even worse off than before. There are several reasons for this, the most important one that management of Natura 2000 sites is not receiving enough financial resources, currently less than 20% of what is needed.

Target 2 commits the EU to maintaining and enhancing ecosystems and their services by establishing green infrastructure and restoring at least 15% of degraded ecosystems.

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So far, only one Member State has put serious work into the development of a restoration prioritisation framework. The Commission has not published guidelines for Member States on how to achieve the 15% restoration target, and its 2013 Green Infrastructure Strategy contains very few concrete actions or funding targets. It mainly commits the Commission to do further studies on a range of topics. However, there are some national plans worth mentioning, such as France’s Trame verte et bleue.  

For Target 3, the aim is that by 2020, areas under agriculture covered by biodiversity-related measures in the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) must be maximised to protect species dependent on farmlands and forests.

However, farmland biodiversity continues to decline, and grasslands habitats are still being destroyed. In 2014, scientists said the new greening rules in the reformed CAP will not contribute to the EU’s Biodiversity Strategy. Member States have also been taking advantage of various loopholes in the CAP on implementing biodiversity-friendly measures. As a result, 89% of EU farms do not have to implement the EFA requirement. On top of that, most Member States are allowing farmers to grow nitrogen fixing crops – not particularly useful to enhance biodiversity – on EFAs.

The aim of Target 4 is not only to ensure the quantity of fish being scooped up is sustainable, it is also about minimising adverse impacts to other non-target species and ecosystems, especially to achieve Good Environmental Status (having clean, healthy and productive seas).

However, implementation of the Common Fisheries Policy has not been rigorous. In 2014, Member States set catch limits for fish above scientific recommendation. The Commission also failed to integrate the ecosystem-based approach in the multi-annual plan for the Baltic (although the European Parliament and the Council are now working to fix that). According to the Commission’s assessment on the State of European Seas in 2014, 39% of stocks in the Northeast Atlantic and 88% of stocks in the Mediterranean and Black Seas were still overfished and marine litter is increasing.

Target 5 wants Invasive Alien Species and their pathways of introduction identified and prioritised, priority species controlled or eradicated, and pathways managed to prevent the introduction and establishment of new invasive species.

new EU regulation on Invasive Alien Species entered into force in January 2015 (three years overdue). However, the first list of invasive alien species of EU concern, adopted in December 2015, contains only 37 species, 2-3 % of the species known to threaten biodiversity in the EU. A major gap in the regulation is ballast water, which is the most important pathway for marine invasive species. BirdLife has developed a shadow list of priority species to assist the EU in proposing new species to assess.

The aim of Target 6 is for the EU to step up its contribution to tackling global biodiversity loss through resource efficiency, reform of environmentally-harmful subsidies and added funding for non-EU action.

In 2013, BirdLife International published the State of the World’s Birds report, which found 1,313 bird species (13% of all bird species) are Threatened; another 880 are Near Threatened. Governments are still only formally protecting 20% of more than 12,000 Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs).

But there are some positive results as well. The EU Timber Regulation (2013) prohibits the sale of illegally harvested timber and its products in the EU. The EU has also remained active in preventing illegal trade of plants and animal parts. EU funding for non-EU conservation has also increased, for example, by opening the EU LIFE programme to projects of relevance to the EU in third countries, and the EU African Wildlife Conservation Strategy.  

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. The European Commission is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.