Implementation of EU nature legislation needs to be stepped up

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV.COM Ltd.

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

Europe is set to miss its target on biodiversity conservation for 2020. It is now becoming clear that there is a disconnect between what the Directives intend, and what is happening on the ground, writes Luc Bas.

Luc Bas is the Director of the Brussels office of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

We’ve reached the halfway mark of the EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2020, and although we have made some progress, the mid-term review, conducted by the European Commission clearly shows that we must dramatically step up implementation efforts if we want to get back on track to reach the targets by 2020.

While the EU has a strong regulatory framework for nature conservation – the Birds and Habitats Directives – implementation of this legislation is clearly not sufficient, and far from ‘halting biodiversity loss by 2020’, as set out in the Biodiversity Strategy, our nature and ecosystems continue their rapid decline. With more than three quarters of the important natural habitats in the EU assessed as currently being in an ‘unfavourable’ conservation state, and – according to IUCN’s European Red List – 25% of assessed species threatened with extinction, it is clear that there is a disconnect somewhere along the way between what the Directives intend and what is happening on the ground.

The issue lays not in our lack of policies and regulations to protect nature, as they are fit for purpose, but in the way that many Member States implement the legislation domestically. For example, the designation of (especially marine) protected areas and their subsequent management is still not optimal and needs special attention.

Mainstreaming biodiversity conservation across all relevant sectoral policies – agriculture, fisheries, sustainable development, and trade, to name but a few – is key to delivering results and reaching the 2020 targets. In addition to urbanization and increasingly fragmented habitats, unsustainable agriculture and fisheries practices in particular have been identified over and over as key threats to our terrestrial and marine biodiversity, and these drivers urgently need to be addressed if we are to halt biodiversity loss.

In both sectors, efforts in this direction would also secure the long-term viability of these industries: Biodiversity ensures healthy ecosystems which provide healthy lands for farming, and marine habitats and balanced species profiles ensure the long-term viability of Europe’s fisheries. This means that we must end the provision of harmful subsidies to unsustainable farming methods, and enforce the positive stimulations in the Common Fisheries Policies in order to ensure that commercial fisheries adhere to Maximum Sustainable Yield thresholds.

Effective action hinges on understanding that biodiversity underlies our health, that of the planet, and of our economy. This perspective should help to speed up effective implementation of EU nature regulation, as well as the recognition of biodiversity’s importance across all policy areas. This recognition will also ensure that we view the financing of nature as an investment, and not a cost, as it genuinely safeguards our prosperity.

IUCN will continue to support and accelerate this action by providing the necessary evidence and knowledge, such as the European Red List of Threatened Species, the European Red List of Ecosystems and the Green List of Protected Areas. Our broad membership delivers much of the actions required on the ground, helping us to ‘walk the talk’.

The mid-term review is a great opportunity to call all hands on deck to improve the status of biodiversity in Europe. We cannot linger here for too long anymore. It’s important to understand the shortcomings, but then work hard to move forward and ensure that we get back on track for 2020.

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