On Wednesday, the European Commission revealed its proposed biodiversity strategy to protect nature and restore ecosystems. The ambitious long-term plan, finally unveiled on 20 May following a number of postponements due to the coronavirus pandemic, aims to ‘put Europe’s biodiversity on the path to recovery by 2030’.
Over the last 40 years, the global population of wild species has fallen by 60 per cent. A report published the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (Ipbes) in May last year identified climate change as the third biggest driver after changes in land and sea use and the direct exploitation of species. The new document sets out new commitments, measures, and targets to address the biodiversity crisis.
Under the proposed biodiversity strategy, one-third of EU land and seas will become protected zones. At present, 26 per cent of land and 11 per cent of seas fall under this category – although, some environmentalists say these numbers are not being met in practice and the Commission itself has acknowledged that previous protections were not sufficient to reverse the degradation of ecosystems and to tackle the threat of extinction to bird and animals.
The strategy also includes plans to restore at least 25 000 km of EU rivers to a free-flowing state, halt and reduce the decline of pollinators, and plant three billion trees in the EU by 2030. While planting trees can improve biodiversity, the approach is not a silver bullet and should only be a small part of the solution, environmentalists warn. They suggest other aspects of the strategy such as goals to map, monitor, and “strictly protect” the last remaining old-growth forests – which provide a natural shield against climate change but are still threatened by illegal logging – might prove even more important.
In addition, the Commission plans to transform the agricultural sector – one of the EU’s largest drivers of biodiversity loss. Indeed, the EU’s €60 billion-a-year common agricultural policy has been criticised for driving a steep decline in nature. To this end, the document calls for reducing the use of pesticides by 50 per cent and for 25 per cent of EU agricultural land to be organically farmed by 2030.
Scientists and environmental groups have welcomed the new 10-year goals, but point out a distinct ‘lack of tools’ to implement them, including systems to allocate of the €20 billion annual budget and enforcement mechanisms.
“If the new strategy remains just a collection of ideas, nothing will ever happen”, César Luena, vice-chair of the European parliament’s environment committee and a Spanish MEP, told the Guardian. Environmental campaigners have also suggested that rather than simply punishing those who fail to comply, the EU should offer funding benefits for governments hitting targets.
The Commission claims the 27-page document will be “a central element” of the EU’s Covid-19 recovery efforts and a key pillar of the European Green Deal. Indeed, many scientists have highlighted the link between human activities such as deforestation, the destruction of habitats, and the illegal wildlife trade, and the increasing frequency of epidemics. Moreover, protecting and restoring biodiversity could boost the farming, fishing and tourism industries and create jobs at a time when many countries are facing serious economic fallout as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.