Europe and Central Asia
12 Oct 2015

What's next for the EU2020 strategy to protect biodiversity?

Protecting the biodiversity of species and preventing the loss of ecosystems is the goal of the EU2020 Biodiversity Strategy. Photo: Roman Boed/Flickr
By Sanya Khetani-Shah

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).

The goal is to halt the loss of biodiversity and degradation of ecosystem services in the EU and restore them, as well as stepping up the EU contribution to averting global biodiversity loss. 

While we still have five 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 in the next few years in order for them to have a chance of making the 2020 strategy a success. 

Target 1: Fully implementing the Birds and Habitats Directives

To increase the number of species and habitats in favourable conservation status under the Birds and Habitats Directives, we need to act immediately. Business as usual means a steady deterioration of the state of nature in the EU, threatening the survival of our species and our livelihoods.

The Birds and Habitats Directives are excellent pieces of legislation. As an outcome of the ‘Fitness Check’ that the Commission is currently undertaking, 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 need to act against illegal killing of birds.  The Commission needs to ensure that the Member States fulfill their obligations under EU legislation by raising the standard of inspections.

Many species and habitats need years or decades to reach favourable conservation status. So we should lay the foundation now to recover Europe’s wildlife, so we can show a better picture in 2030.

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Target 2: Maintaining and enhancing ecosystems and their services 

The Commission has failed to show the leadership needed to achieve the establishing of Green Infrastructure and restoration of 15% of degraded ecosystems.

Green Infrastructure, a network of natural and seminatural areas, is vital for connecting Natura 2000 sites, flood protection and providing a habitat for pollinating insects. However in most of Europe, nature areas are small and fragmented. A Trans-European network of Green Infrastructure is part of the European Commission’s Green Infrastructure Strategy, but it needs sufficient funding to work.

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 restoring 15% of degraded ecosystems is achieved. In the next five years, Member States need to set priorities and scale up restoration.

Target 3A: Increasing the role of agriculture in saving biodiversity

The next five years will be quite a mixed bag for agriculture and will depend mostly on what dominates the headlines: farmers protesting about the market, governments asking to simplify legislation, further environmental declines or voices being raised in favour of a food policy.

But some things we do know: Next year, there will be an EU Commission report on the first year of implementation of the so called “greening” element (making agricultural spaces and lands more environment-friendly) of the Common Agricultural Policy. There will also be further reviews focused on simplifying the existing CAP legislation. The big question is whether these will be used to close some of the many loopholes built into the new CAP or expand them.

In the legislation, there is also a request to have a report that will be used for the revision of the Ecological Focus Area element of the greening (EFAs are 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, creative accounting and fake commitments). The Commission has to evaluate in its report – presented by March 2017- if EFAs need to be increased from 5 to 7%. However, it says nothing about the quality of this EFA land.

All these discussions: simplification, EFA review and even the mid-term review of the Multi-annual financial Framework (MFF) might result in a mid-term assessment of the policy or a real reform.

Target 4: Ensure the sustainable use of fisheries resources

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 catching of dolphins, seabirds, etc in fishing nets, called ‘bycatch’).

After years of ignoring the problem, the EU reformed its fisheries policy. This means politicians should be setting ‘catch’ limits of how much fish can be taken out of the sea in line with what scientists say. Fishers should prevent bycatch by implementing “technical” measures (e.g. zoning certain areas from fishing and adding scaring devices on their boats to frighten away birds).

Politicians need to err on the side of caution. For example, if we know a specific fish stock has been declining and may collapse but lack exact numbers, we should take precautions and set catch limits on that basis. We also need to monitor the situation, collect the data, and enforce changes.

To achieve this isn’t easy because it requires another set of regulations and plans – EU regulations on technical measures, data collection, and control and enforcement; an EU data collection multiannual plan; regional fisheries management plans and data collection plans; as well as national data collection plans – to make it all run smoothly.

Target 5: Combating invasive alien species

The Commission and Member States should further develop the list of invasive alien species of EU concern by focusing on prevention and prioritising species that are absent or in early stages of invasion. Listing will determine if a species’ pathways of unintentional introduction and spread can be considered for an action plan, to be developed by the Member States in the following three years.

The Commission should encourage and support formal risk assessment of priority species and propose them for inclusion in the EU list. The shadow list developed by BirdLife Europe in collaboration with the scientists and conservationists, should serve as the basis for this.

More EU Member States should 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.

Target 6: Addressing the Global Biodiversity Crisis

Despite European leaders having ratified the global Sustainable Development Goals, they are still not taking action at home towards a circular economy with emphasis on resource and energy efficiency. If the EU does not significantly step up its efforts, it will lead to more species disappearing and ecosystems degrading due to short term economic interests.

So the European Commission needs to table an ambitious proposal on circular economy soon. It must 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. Preventing wildlife crime is also an aim of the draft EU African Wildlife Conservation Strategy, which could provide impetus to coordinated action to stem the collapse of animal populations in Africa. 

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.