What's next for EU biodiversity?
The EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2020 was endorsed by the European Commission, the European Parliament and Member States in 2010 to take action on the key causes of biodiversity loss and degradation of ecosystem services (namely, poor implementation of existing laws, deterioration and loss of ecosystems, unsustainable agriculture, unsustainable fisheries, invasive alien species and the ecological footprint of the EU).
While we still have four years left to achieve this, not enough has been done so far to put the EU and Member States on the right track. Here's what needs to be done.
The Birds and Habitats Directives are excellent pieces of legislation to protect species and habitats. As an outcome of the ‘Fitness Check’, we expect the Commission and Member States to improve the implementation and financing of these Directives, including Natura 2000 sites.
Legal protection needs to become real protection on the ground. Member States must enforce site protection and act against illegal killing of birds. Many species and habitats need years or decades to reach favourable conservation status. We should lay the foundation now to recover Europe’s wildlife.
The Commission has failed to show the leadership needed to achieve the establishing of Green Infrastructure (network of areas vital for connecting Natura 2000 sites, flood protection and providing new habitat for species losing theirs due to manmade activites) and restoration of 15% of degraded ecosystems.
Until last year, only one Member State has developed a national policy framework for restoration. A few more are developing one. These frameworks are important to make sure that work in the Member States is targeted, funds well spent, and the overall goal of restoration is achieved.
The next five years will be quite a mixed bag for agriculture. But some things we do know: This year, there will be an EU Commission report on the first year of implementation of the so called “greening” element (making farming more environment-friendly) of the Common Agricultural Policy. There will also be progress on simplifying the existing CAP legislation. The question is if these will be used to close the loopholes built into the new CAP or to expand them.
The legislation also calls for a 2017 report that will be used to determine if Ecological Focus Areas (desperately-needed spaces for nature in our farmlands meant to enhance both functional biodiversity and wildlife, such as flower strips, but that are mostly replaced by crops sprayed with pesticides) need to be increased from 5 to 7%. However, it says nothing about the quality of this EFA land.
Achieving “sustainable fisheries” by 2020 isn’t just about getting fish stocks back to levels that are sustainable, it’s also about making sure that fisheries don’t keep destroying the wider environment (for example, through incidental ‘bycatch’ of dolphins, seabirds, etc in fishing nets).
After years of ignoring the problem, the EU reformed its fisheries policy. This means politicians should be setting ‘catch’ limits of fish in line with what scientists say. Fishers should prevent bycatch by implementing “technical” measures (e.g. adding scaring devices on their boats to frighten away birds). We also need to monitor the situation, collect the data, and enforce changes through regulations and plans to make it all run smoothly.
With the first list of invasive alien species of EU concern adopted, Member States need to develop action plans for their pathways of unintentional introduction within three years. The Commission and Member States should further develop the EU list in 2016, currently containing only 37 species, by focusing on prevention and using risk assessment to prioritise species that are absent or in early stages of invasion. This should be done on the basis of the shadow list developed by BirdLife Europe in collaboration with scientists and conservationists.
More EU Member States should also ratify the IMO Convention for the Control and Management of Ships’ Ballast Water and Sediments, which includes efficient ways to tackle and prevent the introduction of invasive alien species in the marine environment.
Despite European leaders having ratified the global Sustainable Development Goals, the recently introduced circular economy package has been panned by experts. The package needs to end subsidies, including agricultural, which are harmful to biodiversity (this was committed to, not for the first time, at the UN biodiversity conference in South Korea, 2014). Mainstreaming of biodiversity and environmental concerns into trade policy must be taken more seriously. The Commission also needs to develop an EU Action Plan on Deforestation and Forest Degradation.
The Commission has recently committed to develop an EU Action Plan against Wildlife Trafficking. This must be taken forward quickly.