In May 2020, the European Commission adopted a new biodiversity strategy to tackle the main drivers of biodiversity loss in Europe. The 2030 EU Biodiversity Strategy is considered a core part of the European Green Deal and aims to safeguard the EU’s protected species and habitats and restore damaged ecosystems.
Biodiversity encompasses all life within one area. This includes animals, plants, fungi, and even microorganisms, who work together to maintain balance and support life. This also helps to maintain everything in nature that is required for survival such as food, clean water, medicine, and shelter. Alarmingly, biodiversity is declining faster across the globe than it has at any other time in human history. In Europe, 1,677 out of 15,060 species are threatened with extinction and as much as 81% of the EU’s protected habitats are in poor condition. This is caused by intensive agriculture, urbanisation, unsustainable forestry activities and changes to freshwater habitats. Pollution of air, water and soil also impact habitats, as do climate change, over-exploitation of animals through illegal harvesting and unsustainable hunting and fishing. Executive Vice-President for the European Green Deal, Frans Timmermans, argues biodiversity loss is “a clear and present danger to humanity”, and if the issues causing it are not addressed then it will inevitably result in the continued erosion of biodiversity and the critical services it provides, putting human health and prosperity at risk.
The EU’s new biodiversity strategy is a ten-year roadmap designed to ensure Europe’s biodiversity is on the path to recovery by 2030. This will be achieved through the transformation of 30% of Europe’s lands and seas into effectively managed protected areas and by restoring 10% of agricultural areas under high-diversity landscape features. By aiming to restore natural ecosystems on land and sea, the EU is demonstrating a determination to solve the biodiversity crisis while recognising it as a crucial component in tackling climate change. Furthermore, the Commission aims to raise at least €20 billion per year to fund the plan through private and public funds at the EU and national levels. In addition, a proportion of the EU’s climate budget will also be invested in biodiversity.
Highlighted in the strategy is the EU’s intention to become a world leader on tackling the global biodiversity crisis, with specific reference to the upcoming COP15 of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity. The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, has reinforced this aspiration by stating the EU will advocate for the ambition of the 2030 Biodiversity Strategy to be replicated at a global level, arguing “we need a Paris-style agreement for biodiversity“. This is a clear indication that the EU recognises not only the urgent attention the crisis requires but the significance of the upcoming UN Summit, having identified the event as an opportunity for world leaders to begin addressing biodiversity loss more cohesively and more meaningfully.
The 2030 EU Biodiversity Strategy has largely been well received. The World Wide Fund for Nature has described the new strategy as a “potential game changer” and has praised the targets set out by the Commission on protected areas and the restoration of nature across Europe. Similarly, the EUROPARC Federation has welcomed many aspects of the plan such as the key inclusion of the relationship between healthy ecosystems and human health.
However, some commentators remain unconvinced the 2030 EU Biodiversity Strategy is a ‘game changer’. Paul de Zylva, a nature campaigner at Friends of the Earth, argues the plan is akin to previous initiatives that failed to deliver on similar targets. This cautious tone is echoed by Rewilding Europe, a Dutch based non-profit organisation who campaign for a ‘wilder Europe’, as they highlight how the strategy’s success depends on the way it is put into practice.
As part of the strategy adopted in 2020, the European Commission has committed to introducing legally binding nature-restoration targets in 2021. This is a notable development that was long advocated for by the WWF and other environment focused NGOs, as they believe without setting such targets, the EU will fail to deliver on the climate and biodiversity commitments of the European Green Deal. By introducing legally binding targets the EU is demonstrating a recognition of their significance in meeting environmental objectives while displaying a more purposeful commitment to an ecological recovery in Europe over the next decade. It also suggests the Commission has learnt from the failure of previous plans designed to tackle biodiversity loss.
Furthermore, the aforementioned €20 billion per year is a significant amount dedicated to financing the new biodiversity plan. The lack of efficient funding was highlighted as one of the key reasons behind the failure of the EU’s 2020 Biodiversity Strategy. This is in addition to other causes such as lack of ownership within the EU and lack of cohesion or consideration between other sectors or policies. Therefore, the EU’s new plan attempts to rectify these issues by ensuring the strategy is a “cross cutting initiative between its services”, and assigning the responsibility of its implementation to the Commission. These aspects of the strategy have been commended by the likes of the Institute for European Environmental Policy, who comment the Commission has demonstrated great leadership on the issue. This suggests the EU recognises the failures of the 2020 Biodiversity Strategy and going forward, aim to respond more effectively to the crisis.
Overall, it is evident the European Commission is determined to adopt a more assertive approach to tackling the biodiversity crisis in Europe, and across the world. The 2030 EU Biodiversity Strategy reflects this ambition; it details bold targets for Europe to strive for over the next ten years while detailing a commitment to provide significant funding each year for the plan. Moreover, the consensus from NGOs and MEPs (including the more pessimistic observers), is that the Commission’s newly adopted strategy is a promising step forward from the failure of the previous 2020 EU Biodiversity Strategy. Reflected in the new strategy and in recent rhetoric from European leadership is a genuine commitment from the European Commission to not only tackle the biodiversity crisis, but to be a world leader on the issue.
How the strategy is implemented is now key and the introduction of legally binding targets on nature restoration later this year will be a useful indicator on how this may happen. If the EU truly aims to tackle biodiversity loss and to lead the way in facing the global biodiversity crisis, then it must learn from previous failures and follow through on the ambitious targets laid out in the new strategy.
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Gurney, J. (2021) The EU’s Biodiversity Strategy, IDRN, 12 February. Available at: https://idrn.eu/environment-and-climate-change/the-eus-biodiversity-strategy [Accessed dd/mm/yyyy].