What is the solution for financing biodiversity?
The current approach for funding nature has failed entirely and is one of the main reasons that the biodiversity crisis in Europe remains. A new way forward is urgently needed. A lively debate at the Representation of the Free State of Bavaria to the European Union, with key Members of the European Parliament, the European Commission and government representatives addressed this fundamental question
The debate focused on two alternative solutions put forward by NABU (BirdLife in Germany) in their discussion paper (English/German) on how to tackle this challenge. A hot topic immediately related to the funding debate is, not surprisingly, the role that the EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) plays, still almost an incredible 40% of the EU budget. The discussion paper begins by making it perfectly clear that the current "integration approach" attempts, to use existing EU funds for financing Natura 2000 sites and other elements of the EU Biodiversity Strategy has failed. It estimates from existing data that the financial gap for Natura 2000 is more than 50% of the cost. This gap has made it impossible to realize the urgently needed measures which would preserve spaces for threatened species. For example, because of current agricultural practices, half of our farmland birds have been lost since 1980. In the case of farmers and forest landowners who want to take action to preserve nature and biodiversity, existing incentives are simply not attractive enough. Lack of funding has also equated to understaffing which has led to poor implementation and enforcement of EU nature legislation (Birds and Habitats Directives).
NABU placed two alternative models on the table. One, the establishment of an EU fund entirely dedicated to the environment to support Member States with the implementation of legislation and with ecosystem restoration and stabilisation. It would be operated through operational programmes at national and regional levels similar to the existing EAFRD and EFRD, but administered by the environment administration. This fund, in which all land users and civil society organisations and authorities could tap into, would be financed by the First Pillar of the CAP. The second model would entail a shared management of existing EU funds for biodiversity, with a clear vision of how “real integration” could look like. This would include a legally binding minimum budget for biodiversity in relevant funds (so called earmarking) where significant transfers from the First to Second Pillar of the CAP would be needed and national and regional programming done jointly between the environmental and agricultural or other ministries responsible.
The debate that followed offered some interesting insights. Representatives from the Bavarian government said that it has been very difficult for Member States to use EU funding because of the bureaucratic burden. Dr Christian Barth, from the Bavarian Ministry of Environment, supported the idea of result based payments as well as a dedicated EU fund for biodiversity. Whereas Mr Anton Dippold, from the Agricultural Ministry, was more critical and underlined Bavaria’s already good track record of the integration approach in supporting the environment through the existing agricultural budget.
On the side of the European Parliament, MEP Albert Deß described the current CAP regulations as too complex and in some ways counterproductive. He prefers that the Second Pillar be strengthened, but he was challenged on this by other MEPs who reminded him that he had agreed on this reform. Karl Falkenberg, Director General for Environment in the European Commission admitted that once the funds for the CAP had been secured, largely for environmental justifications, the intended green reform unravelled quickly and was watered down by Member States and the European Parliament. He stressed that DG Environment is now reflecting on the possibility of a dedicated environmental EU fund based on a thorough evaluation of the integration. He also noted that Member States are partly responsible for the complexity of the rules, as they negotiated the multiple layers of exemptions which exist within the current system.
Dr Aard Mulder, representative of The Netherlands, strongly argued that citizens will no longer tolerate such lucrative payments to farmers who do not deliver environmental results. His country has recognized the failure of traditional approaches and is now moving towards targeted collective Rural Development schemes where all farmers within a landscape work together. NABU’s Dr Eick von Ruschkowski stressed that the integration approach has failed, and that new ways must be explored. NABU has not taken a final position yet, but made it clear that the status quo is no longer an option. He concluded that under any model, land users would have to be essential recipients of EU funding for environmental action.
Ariel Brunner, BirdLife Europe’s Head of EU Policy, closed by stating that everyone in the room seemed to be on the same page. The current approach for nature funding has failed entirely and is one of the main reasons that the biodiversity crisis in Europe remains. Current mechanisms such as the CAP have not delivered for the environment and are too bureaucratic. A new way forward is urgently needed, yet the models proposed by NABU offer some hope and a crucial starting point to move this debate in a new direction.