Saving our wildlife requires radical policy change

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

Animal populations have declined by 58% since 1978. [WWF]

Cute animals are social media stars. Facebook and Twitter are peppered with them. Beyond this fun factor though, animals rarely get the attention they deserve. Hopefully, this will change, writes Geneviève Pons, as WWF launches its Living Planet Report.

Geneviève Pons is director of WWF’s European Policy Office.

We humans are decimating our wildlife. Populations of fish, birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles have declined by 58% globally between 1970 and 2012, the most recent year with available data.

Even worse, if we carry on as we have been, we will have diminished wildlife populations by 67% by 2020. That’s two-thirds, in 50 years – a mere blink of an eye of the earth’s history!

Why does this matter, as long as we can still watch videos of cute animals on social media? Well, it matters massively. It matters to all of us, and – even more so – to the generations to come. After all, nature is the foundation of all our activities and well-being, of our societies and economies.

Biodiversity forms the basis of healthy forests, rivers and oceans. Take away species and these ecosystems will collapse. And they’ll take our clean air, water, food and climate with them.

The scale of the efforts needed to change the course of this devastating downward spiral is staggering – not to say, unprecedented. But just as it is we humans who have been causing this massive change – experts are even discussing the concept of a new geological epoch, the Anthropocene in recognition of the human impact on Earth systems – it is also up to us to curb this trend, before it is too late.

There certainly are glimmers of hope here and there. In 2015, the EU signed two historic international agreements – on sustainable development in New York, and on the fight against climate change in Paris. If the EU can ensure that these agreements are translated into meaningful and ambitious policies – and if those policies are then properly implemented – we could slow down the rush into oblivion of our biodiversity and everything it entails.

This should start with the European Commission producing a strategy for the domestic implementation of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda and its 17 goals. The EU should adopt a solid overarching strategy on which natural environment can strive, and every policy area, from energy to finance, needs to be re-thought in the light of its aims. Indeed, adequately protecting the environment and ensuring fair and sustainable economic and social development require a radical change in policy-making toward a long-term, science-based and integrated approach.

There are three concrete things we can do to make this happen:

The EU Nature Directives need to be finally saved from the saga of the ongoing ‘fitness check’ process, and proper implementation and financing has to be guaranteed in order to reap the full benefits of nature conservation in Europe.

We need to reform food production and consumption, which are number one in terms of global environmental impacts. The EU’s consumption is driving deforestation, biodiversity loss and overfishing not just domestically but across the world. So we have to radically and rapidly change our food system to make it more sustainable.

And last but by no means least, we have to get serious about tackling climate change. The changing climate is already driving species to extinction, and the effects will be felt even more strongly in the future. Paris was a great start, but now tangible action needs to follow. The Commission must deliver strong proposals this autumn on climate and energy for 2030, which ensure maximum emissions reductions and usher in a 100% renewable energy future.

Together, we can ensure that 2020 will be remembered for the right reasons. Not as the year in which a grim record for two-thirds biodiversity loss was set, but as the year in which the historic Paris Agreement took effect and in which the UN saw real progress on the sustainable development goals.

The EU has a chance to put us on that path in the coming months. By doing so, it will give a signal to the world that we are serious about acting in the long-term interests and about giving our precious biodiversity, and the people and planet it supports, a real future.

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