Europe and Central Asia
17 Jul 2020

EU Biodiversity Strategy: are we on the right track to protect nature?

Lars Soerink
By Justine Guiny, International Biodiversity Policy Officer
A couple months ago, the European Commission heeded the desperate call of the scientific community and multiple generations. They adopted an ambitious Biodiversity Strategy, one that reflects the reality of the environmental crisis we are facing.
 
Proudly standing alongside the Climate Law, the Biodiversity Strategy is at the heart of the European Green Deal that Commission President von der Leyen promised to deliver within the first 100 days of her mandate. Published in the midst of the Covid-19 crisis, the Biodiversity Strategy offers a light at the end of the tunnel. It aims to strengthen the protection of our land and seas, the restoration of Europe’s ecosystems, and transform agriculture and fishing - the largest drivers of biodiversity loss. This blueprint to recover nature could also be our ticket to a green recovery: it sets out clear priorities for the public investments we need to overcome the crisis.
 
So… Can we go home now, reassured that people and nature are going to be fine? Not exactly… or at least, not yet!
 
The Commission is only part of the equation of the giant European machinery. Now, the ball is in the court of the European Parliament and Member States, who need to endorse the Biodiversity Strategy to bring it to life (in other words: agree to get the job started on the ground!)
 
An efficient and quick implementation of the Biodiversity Strategy will then be fundamental if we want to avoid another wasted decade. Time is a luxury we do not have: we are reaching tipping points. Species are going extinct. Ecosystems are vanishing. We desperately need to restore nature now.
 
A few key issues will make or break the attempt to save our life support system:
 
Enforce existing nature laws. While new legal tools are urgently needed, the Commission and Member States seriously need to enforce the nature laws we currently have. They’re among the best in the world on paper, but they’re useless if they’re not enforced.
 
The completion of the EU’s protected areas network to 30% of Member States’ territory needs to be guided by science, and extend the coverage of threatened species and the coherence of the existing network. It’s also about ensuring protected areas are primarily managed for biodiversity, and at a minimum, align with the Natura 2000 criteria.
 

Photo credits: Jeroen Mentens
 

Restore nature. In the Biodiversity Strategy, the Commission committed to a legally binding restoration target by 2021. Now what?
 
It is more than urgent to start restoring ecosystems, if we want to beat the twin biodiversity and climate crises. We need to restore at least 15% of the overall land and sea territory of each Member State, and a law for quick national-level action. This new regulation will need to be snappy, focused and implementable in the short term. It should also include the Commission’s commitment to restore 25,000 km of free flowing rivers, to protect 30% of Europe’s land and seas and strictly protect 1/3 of them. This should help the Natura 2000 network and restore crucial habitats such as old-growth forests, coastal and marine areas, wetlands and peatlands. It should also support the implementation of EU water protection laws.
 
Shift to sustainable farming and fishing. No, we’re not dreaming. In the Biodiversity Strategy, the Commission finally recognised the scientific reality that our production model is one of the main drivers of biodiversity loss.
 
We’ve come a long way from the hazy commitments in the former Biodiversity Strategy where not hurting the intensive farming lobby seemed a bigger priority than listening to science. Now, the Biodiversity Strategy is proposing concrete targets by 2030: At least 10% of space for nature on farms, cutting pesticide use in half… And the Commission finally admits that we need to correct the bioenergy policies that burn land and food. If implemented, these measures can be real game changers: protect pollinators, boost natural pest control, increase long-term food production and keep both ecosystems and farming healthy! So, are we safe now? Not exactly. To enable this fundamental change, these targets need to be integrated in the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).
 
On the oceans’ side, the Biodiversity Strategy rightly recognises that fishing is a big driver of biodiversity loss and strengthens the Commission’s mandate to manage fisheries in line with an ecosystems-based approach.
 
This will only be possible by ensuring all human activities taking place at sea are analysed and mitigated by Member States’ fleets. Zero tolerance will also need to be applied to all practices in the marine environment that lead to significant environmental degradation, including the bycatch of sensitive species such as seabirds.
 
Fund the Biodiversity Strategy’s implementation. Something to celebrate: the Biodiversity Strategy wants to dedicate €20 billion per year to biodiversity. But let’s not count our chickens before they are hatched…
 
As part of the recently agreed EU Budget of €1.82 trillion, this commitment to dedicated funding for biodiversity and ecosystems recovery is nowhere to be seen. On the contrary, the LIFE funding, which is the EU’s main financial instrument for environment and climate action, has been shortened compared to the 2018 proposal. 
 
The budget available for nature amounts to only 0.7% of the EU Budget where it should be at least 10% if we are to hope implementing large-scale restoration in Europe, better manage the Natura 2000 network and increase green infrastructures as promised in the Biodiversity Strategy.
 
In particular, if we want to stop destroying nature, none of the funding coming from the CAP and the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund should be used to finance activities that are harmful to the environment. Nevertheless, the CAP still lacks concrete guidelines for Member States to invest in protecting biodiversity.
 
On the post-Covid-19 Recovery Package, demands from 1.3 million citizens for a Green Recovery hardly played a role. EU Member States neither picked up a possible negative "Exclusion List" to rule out the possibility of supporting harmful investments such as fossil fuels, nor did they adopt concrete green conditionality criteria for the allocation and spending of the funds. 
 
 

Photo credits: Yves Adams

Show global EU leadership. In May 2021, our leaders will gather at the Convention for Biological Diversity (CBD – COP15) to agree on a common post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework. Through the ambition of the Biodiversity Strategy, the Commission shows it is ready to take significant commitments to protect nature at home. It must now seize this opportunity to champion bold and concrete objectives at global level.
 
Nature knows no borders, and as we have seen, neither does Covid-19. At the same time, overcoming the Covid crisis and the biodiversity crisis comes through international collaboration and mutual support. EU initiatives such as NaturAfrica should make a difference for the EU to rethink its environmental footprint on other continents and support the global South in protecting its biodiversity.
 
It should be clear by now: the planet’s health is our health. Beyond EU legislation, the right to a healthy natural environment should be a human right.
 
Sign our petition to make this a reality: change.org/1planet1right.


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.