On 26th February, the European Commission is due to present its biodiversity strategy, anticipating the 15th meeting of the Conference of Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP 15) from 19th October to 1st November, 2020, in Kunming, China. The Resolution that the European Parliament has voted is partisan, ideological and without realistic objectives.
A one-sided text
It is understandable that biodiversity has an emotional dimension and that it creates empathy. There is no question that close attention needs to be paid to our environment. But a common policy to be acceptable by all citizens must be based on facts, not just emotions and magical thinking. The European authorities’decisions should rely on scientific information and not on ideological discourses from activist groups as is the case for the European Parliament Resolution on COP15 to the Convention on Biological Diversity.
Thereby, the phrase “living in harmony with nature” is a romantic vision, certainly sympathetic, bordering on religious belief, however totally disconnected from most citizens’experience. Human societies have developed both by taking advantage of nature’s resources and by fighting against it (diseases, crop pests, dangerous animals, climatic disasters, etc.). Therefore, this duality should not be denied by preconception.
Nor are all components of biodiversity essential for food security. It is even questionable to protect some since pests must be controlled, even in organic farming.
A fixist vision of nature
The ideological fixist representation of nature ignores what any serious scientists can recognize: European biodiversity is a hybrid product between spontaneous processes and agricultural practices that have modified ecological systems over centuries in order to meet the needs of human societies. There is a broad consensus that agriculture was the main actor in the creation of our landscapes, and most of our ecological systems that we strive to preserve are anthropized systems: hedgerows, mountain pastures, humid areas and even forests most of have been planted by man.
Systematically presenting current climate change as a threat to biodiversity is a deliberately anxiety-provoking untruth. Thus, this Resolution seems to ignore that European biodiversity has a history, notably linked to its climate. Major climatic fluctuations such as glaciations have repeatedly eradicated a large part of the fauna and flora. Following these upsets, biological diversity has demonstrated a great capacity for resilience. Evoking the threat of climate change is congenital to this fixist vision of nature carried by conservationist movements which consider that nothing should ever change! They are, in fact, close to the creationist ideology which is still alive in some religions and countries. … In addition, this fixist concept will obviously have negative consequences for the economy and daily life … but that’s another problem!
As the IPCC has shown, even if we stopped all greenhouse gas emissions today (which is highly improbable …), the climate warming would still continue for two centuries … So at least changes in the distribution of species will have to be faced! So what should our protection goals be?
An alarming lack of realistic goals
The protection of European ecological systems requires a systemic approach. For example, hedgerows are emblematic environments for biodiversity but are actually human creations, historically linked to uses, including livestock. If we stop eating meat, for example, certain hedgerows will become unnecessary, will be neglected and will either become overgrown or will be ungulfed by urbanization.
Likewise, we must be logical about the impacts of human activities and the restoration objectives. There are many anthropized systems which are also labelled as conservation sites, for example the Camargue in France, which in reality is entirely artificial! This European Parliament Resolution does not take these contradictions into account and neither does it provide answers beyond stating ‘we must protect’! In addition, stating that forests are essential for subsistence ignores the fact that most of our food comes from crops and… forest clearings!
What references do we actually have to set targets for restoration and conservation? Ecosystem restoration is a concept that is not clearly defined scientifically. In a constantly changing world, there is no standard benchmark. The absence of clear objectives leads to blind policies. This does not seem to concern the authors of this Resolution, who seek to maintain the existing against all the evidence, since species are changing living area as they have always done in response to the climate! To lead people to believe that the reference should be a nature without man is manifestly incongruous!
This Resolution is biased since it considers only the negative aspects of human action, while there are many examples of improvements via the protection of species. A reasonable policy can only be based relative to objectives negotiated by the various environment stakeholders in a systemic approach and not only on the sectoral and naturalistic vision of biodiversity.
Furthermore, this Resolution mixes geographical scales, moving from the level of the planet to that of Europe and the regional context. It makes generalizations which in reality mask a great heterogeneity of situations, thus ignoring a basic principle of ecology which is contingency: what is true in one place is not necessarily true elsewhere, depending on the environmental contexts. Thus, it is scientifically incorrect to speak of forests in general. European forests, which are poor in plant and animal diversity, are in no way comparable to tropical forests which are rich in species, as a consequence of different climatic history.
Inappropriate imperialistic ambition
The impression on reading this Resolution is that a lobbyist group is trying to influence EU policy by promoting biased and non-validated information, in order to set up a coercive system which transcends both freedom and democracy. The unhidden temptation to impose an ecological order and right of interference (“Calls for an EU-wide legally binding target to restore degraded habitats by 2030”) deserves clarification and discussion.
Why would the EU be legitimate and which mandate does it have to promote such a new world order? Goals as unrealistic as “call for protecting half of the planet by 2050” reflects the lack of credibility of these proposals, unless we consider that the priority is biodiversity, not people …!
It can be predicted that an apparently well-thinking proposal such as “the phase-out of harmful subsidies, and for coherence between all EU funds and programmes to be ensured so that no expenditure under the EU budget can contribute to biodiversity loss” will be used by activist groups to block any development or equipment project. Industry and commerce are clearly targeted, agriculture included as shown by manifestly false scientific claims such as “the massive use of broad-spectrum systemic herbicides such as glyphosate is directly responsible for massive loss of biodiversity”. This ignores the contribution of this herbicide to soil conservation agriculture! In addition, it is well known that one of the main causes of biodiversity loss is the destruction of habitats.
Yes, our relationship with nature should continue to be improved. But it is unlikely that European citizens who live in a nature that they have co-constructed will want to live in a kind of wilderness. It is even less likely that their objective is to give priority to the conservation of nature over human food and health security. It is obviously necessary to seek compromises and not to impose ideological diktats on the rest of the world, without any informed democratic debate.