Opinion: the EU has the duty to lead the movement to protect nature worldwide
We are at a critical juncture in our history and that of our planet: the joint climate and biodiversity crises now threaten the survival of humanity. Just this summer, several European countries were hit by deadly wildfires and unprecedented floods, killing hundreds of people, causing billions in damages, and leading to serious economic, social and health consequences. While this was a consequence of climate change, it was also a repercussion of the collapse of biodiversity.
By Justine Guiny, International Biodiversity Policy Officer
In and of itself, biodiversity collapse is dramatic enough, as it roughly means the disintegration of the living world. That being said, some people think biodiversity loss doesn’t really matter to human beings, and yet it absolutely does. For instance, we depend on healthy, intact ecosystems to trap and sequester carbon, retain water, and prevent soil erosion. The ongoing destruction of nature not only accelerates the heating of the atmosphere, it also makes us more vulnerable to the worst impacts of the climate crisis.
Faced with this reality, our resources should be focused on remedying this dramatic situation, which our species’ destructive activities have precipitated. As I write these lines, representatives of the world’s nations are negotiating a new Global Biodiversity Framework, which will be finalised at the upcoming United Nations biodiversity summit, COP15. I wanted to take this opportunity to reflect upon the EU’s role as a potential world leader in biodiversity protection.
Since the industrial revolution, the lion’s share of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide has come from Europe. Our continent has been a pioneer in destroying biodiversity: within its own walls, but also across the globe, in no small part due to the intensive industries that it has brought to the four corners of the world. In my opinion, Europe has a historical responsibility, I would even say a duty, to lead the movement to protect and restore nature on our planet.
That being said, can we do it? Do we have the knowledge, power and means to endorse such a role? I believe the answer is yes.
For all its past faults, Europe has recently made tremendous headway on the biodiversity front. And to a great degree, it’s thanks to the European Union. From the Birds and Habitats Directives (the most powerful nature legislation in the world, protecting over one million km2 of natural habitat) to the European Green Deal and Biodiversity Strategy for 2030, with the ongoing development of a nature restoration law; the EU and its 27 Member States are an unprecedented force for progress in transforming our economic model and our relationship with nature.
Although there are still many rivers to cross, the EU is increasingly taking action to protect biodiversity on the home front. And yet, focusing on our doorstep isn’t enough.
Image credit: © Lars Soerink
The fact is, the EU does not exist in a void. Every country on Earth belongs to the same biosphere: coal burning in Poland hurts Peru; deforestation in Brazil hurts Belgium. Beyond a sense of duty, it is simply in our interest to make sure nature is protected worldwide and the wisest investment the EU could possibly make into our common future.
In October, the first part of the UN biodiversity summit, COP15, will take place. This high-level summit, and the negotiations around it, represent huge opportunities for the EU to demonstrate its leadership on the world stage.
Proving that starts at home: the EU must honour its commitments to act swiftly to protect and restore nature, and wait no longer to show sufficient ambition for the future. The EU can and should be more vocal in pushing for the necessary ambition for nature worldwide: it has the duty, experience, and power to do so.
We need a global nature-positive goal: we must not only halt the loss of biodiversity, but also recover it, at the very least by 2030; in order to ensure a full recovery by 2050.
Almost all EU Member States’ national strategic plans (CSPs) have now been submitted and approved by the European Commission, and the rollout of the EU’s new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), adopted in 2021, is underway.
On the eve of the UN Biodiversity Conference (COP 15), the EU must prioritize the health of our ocean in its fight against the climate and biodiversity crises and accept that as part of this, a radical change of our fisheries is crucial.
Thousands of marine mammals, seabirds, sea turtles, sharks, and rays are killed in fishing gear every year in European waters. This bycatch is one of the main causes of the declines seen in many of these species’ population. But marine species are not the only ones to suffer. For fishers, bycatch means damaged equipment, lost bait, lost fish, and precious time wasted removing bycaught animals from nets, lines, and hooks.
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