New CAP must face biodiversity challenge

The new CAP must face the issue of biodiversity loss. [Kevin Cole / Flickr]

The new “greener” Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) could help the EU meet its objective of halting biodiversity loss by 2020, the Commission has told EURACTIV, after its own review showed there had been no significant progress towards stopping environmental destruction.   

The mid-term review of the EU biodiversity strategy, published last week (2 October), led to strong criticism of the EU’s executive by environmental NGOs.

Adopted in May 2011, the strategy towards 2020 aims to halt the degradation of ecosystems, restore them to the extent possible by 2020, and help avert global biodiversity loss.

The implementation of the Birds and Habitats Directives, including Natura 2000, the European network of protected areas, is a core element of this strategy.

“There has been no measurable improvement in the status of agriculture-related habitats and species covered by the Habitats Directive since 2010”, the report said.

The report added that the continuing decline in the status of species and habitats of EU importance associated with agriculture “indicates that greater efforts need to be made to conserve and enhance biodiversity in these areas”.

Friends of the Earth Europe strongly criticised the failure of the CAP to conserve biodiversity. “Industrial farming is eating up our wildlife – politicians need to do a lot more to support sustainable local food systems that enhance nature,” Robbie Blake, nature campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe, said.

European Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, Karmenu Vella, said of the report, “There are plenty of lessons to be drawn from this report – some good progress, and good examples to be emulated, but much more work is needed to close the gaps and reach our biodiversity targets by 2020. There is no room for complacency – losing biodiversity means losing our life-support system. We can’t afford that, and neither can our economy.” 

EU citizens concerned

A recent Eurobarometer survey showed that the vast majority of EU citizens are deeply concerned about the effects of biodiversity loss.

At least eight out of ten Europeans consider the various effects of it to be serious, while 55% of them think this is a serious issue in the local area where they live.

More than three-quarters of Europeans believes that mankind has a responsibility to look after nature and that it is important to stop biodiversity loss. More than half of EU citizens agree that biodiversity and nature are important for long-term economic development (56%).

Most Europeans might have heard the word “biodiversity” (60%) but just half of them knows what it means.

The role of new CAP

Green policies play a key role in the new CAP for 2014-2020.

According to the latest data, about €62 billion, is earmarked for the “greening envelope” of direct payments and €50.4 billion from the Rural Development budget.

Compared to the period 2007-2013, where €44.2 billion was spent on actions under the environment Axis of the second pillar, the new CAP is more focused on green policies.

Daniel Rosario, a spokesperson for Agriculture and Rural Development, told EURACTIV that the CAP offers a number of instruments to find adequate answers to the challenges of climate change, and to a more sustainable EU agriculture.

“Sustainable management of natural resources and climate action represent one of the three main objectives of the CAP,” he said.

“Looking across the 28 member states, a total of €25.3 billion from the EU budget for rural development has been earmarked to actions that have a positive impact on biodiversity and around 20% of all farm land in the EU will be under management contract to improve or preserve biodiversity,” he added.

Rosario said that from 2015 onwards, the CAP will introduce a new policy instrument in Pillar 1, the Green Direct Payment. Its implementation is compulsory.

“This ‘green payment’ is granted for implementing three compulsory practices, namely crop diversification, ecological focus areas and permanent grassland, whose environmental benefits on biodiversity, water and soil quality, carbon sequestration and landscapes have been proven,” he said. 

“It represents 30% of the direct payment budget. As the Green Direct Payment is compulsory it has the advantage of introducing practices that are beneficial for the environment and climate change on a large part of the utilised agricultural area,”, he concluded.

Leonardo Mazza, Senior Policy Officer for Biodiversity and Ecosystems at the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) criticized the new CAP:

“We welcome the Commission’s recognition that the new CAP, currently being rolled out, can in no way be seen as making any contribution to maintaining and enhancing biodiversity. As member state governments are not using the CAP’s in-built flexibility to support more sustainable agriculture practices, they will be the ones responsible for the agriculture sector remaining the main driver of biodiversity loss in Europe for years to come.”

BirdLife Europe’s Head of EU Policy, Ariel Brunner, stated: “This review sadly confirms our analysis that the EU is failing on biodiversity, with agriculture as the outstanding disaster zone”.

“This review shows the EU needs to focus on fixing its broken farm policy and on fully implementing its environmental legislation, not on re-opening laws that are the only parts of the biodiversity strategy that are actually delivering.”

Martina Mlinaric, Senior Policy Officer, Biodiversity & Water at WWF European Policy Office, said:

“The Commission must use its power to make the Member States implement and enforce the Birds and Habitats Directives and fix other policies on energy and transport infrastructure, as well as on agriculture. Intensive agriculture, as one of the root causes of biodiversity loss should be seriously addressed: food production depends on nature and needs to contribute to its preservation not to its disappearance.”

Robbie Blake, nature campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe said:

“Europe’s nature is in trouble. In failing to halt the loss of our butterflies, bees and birds, the EU and our governments are neglecting every citizen’s right to experience thriving nature.

“EU leaders must listen to the half a million citizens who have called for our strong nature protection laws to be upheld and better implemented – the last thing we need is for the EC to consider re-writing and weakening them now.” 

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