The test for the EU’s biodiversity strategy will be whether all EU legislation matches its ambition on nature protection, Green lawmakers argued in an environment committee debate about the strategy on Thursday (14 January).
“The real test is going to be whether all European Union policies follow this biodiversity protection line,” said Ville Niinistö, shadow rapporteur for the Greens.
“The new call of having 10% of the EU budget by 2026 for biodiversity protection is one big step towards actually achieving that,” he added.
The Commission’s biodiversity strategy includes spending aims for biodiversity, including €20 billion per year for nature and 10% of the EU’s seven-year budget to be spent on biodiversity objectives from 2026.
“This strategy is our compass for making sure that our policies contribute to biodiversity, to preventing the loss of biodiversity, stopping the loss of biodiversity or at the very least making sure that we do no harm in what we do elsewhere,” said Karolina D’Cunha, deputy head of biodiversity at the Commission’s environment department.
The strategy also includes proposals for legally binding protections on 30% of land and sea, with 10% strictly protected. The Parliament supported these targets, and wants to make them legally binding.
In the past, voluntary targets have consistently been missed. None of the Aichi biodiversity targets for 2020 were met, something highlighted by French President, Emmanuel Macron, at the One Planet Summit on Monday (11 January).
However, at a hearing on biodiversity loss also held on Thursday (14 January) Green MEP Jutta Paulus raised concerns about protected areas being built on.
“What we see ever and again is member states planning to do infrastructure on protected lands and assessing the societal benefits as much higher than the worth of the habitat, so at the end of the day, we’ll end up with roads, bridges, industrial areas being built in Natura 2000 sites,” she said.
Preventing global biodiversity loss
Biodiversity protection must go beyond the EU’s borders, said Paulus, pointing to biodiversity loss in tropical rainforests, like the Amazon.
There are concerns about the impact of trade deals on biodiversity, with particular focus on the Mercosur deal with South American countries. France has threatened to block the deal over deforestation concerns, with Greenpeace warning that the agreement has no provisions to ensure the Paris Agreement is enforced.
The new EU-UK trade agreement is the first to have such a large provision for climate change, setting a precedent for further trade deals that NGOs will be hoping the Commission pursues.
But trade policy is the elephant in the room when it comes to biodiversity, said Saskia Bricmont, international trade committee rapporteur for the biodiversity strategy, pointing to research showing deforestation significantly increases in the three years following a regional trade agreement.
“It is thus crucial that trade policy mirrors what is currently being implemented in the EU. Otherwise trade policy would undermine the achievements obtained by the ongoing adjustments of internal policies,” she added.
More biodiversity protection needed
Experts speaking at an environment committee hearing on biodiversity loss called for the Commission to increase biodiversity protections and cut down on harmful subsidies.
They outlined five direct drivers: land use change, deforestation, over exploitation, climate change, pollution and invasive alien species.
“There’s a lot of political capital and economic capital invested in climate change. I think making that same connection to biodiversity will be critical, not only to protect biodiversity, but also to protect our human existence and human health,” said Dr Hans Bruyninckx, executive director at the European Environment Agency.
“Because if there are one million species on the way out in the sixth mass extinction, the real question is whether homo sapiens might be part of the next wave,” he added.
Biodiversity in agriculture
The link between agricultural practices and biodiversity loss was shown last year in the State of Nature report, which found that unsustainable farming and forestry, as well as urban sprawl and pollution, were the main pressures on biodiversity.
However, shadow rapporteur from the EPP, Alexander Bernhuber warned that the new biodiversity strategy should avoid exporting pollution from food production and emphasised the need for an impact assessment into what measures will have the best effect.
The environment committee expects to vote on the final draft of the biodiversity strategy report in March, with it likely to come to plenary in April.
[Edited by Benjamin Fox]