Don’t leave biodiversity by the wayside

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

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Current crises should not derail global and European nature restoration ambitions, argues Nick Canney, European Managing Director of innocent drinks.

Later this year, UN Member States will come together to agree on global goals for biodiversity and nature protection. At the heart of discussions is a call for countries to protect and conserve 30% of their territories by 2030.

However, negotiations on the so-called “Paris Agreement for nature” have been delayed several times over the past couple of years. The final UN summit which should have been taking place this week in China, was recently postponed again to the autumn.

In many respects, it is understandable that biodiversity has been not at the top of world leaders’ priorities.

The global pandemic has undoubtedly played a role in slowing down negotiations at UN level. And on top of the human tragedy unfolding, the conflict in Ukraine is also posing major challenges to global food supplies and triggering a rethink of land use and agricultural production policies all around the world.

At EU level we are already seeing the impact of these developments on the green agenda. European Commission proposals on nature restoration targets and sustainable use of pesticides due to come out at the end of March were postponed amid concerns about placing additional burdens on farmers at this difficult time.

And as the economic fallout from the conflict begins to bite, companies, governments and ordinary people will be faced with ever tougher trade-offs. These will be a necessity if we want to deliver on the rightly ambitious green targets that we have set ourselves – from carbon emission reductions to sustainable food choices for our dinner tables.

Against this backdrop we could be forgiven for taking a step back. At the same time, it is arguably more important than ever that we keep momentum in the fight against climate change. For example, the conflict in Ukraine has placed our reliance on imports of fossil fuels in Europe into even sharper focus. Now is not the time to slow down investments in renewables. Instead, it is all the more reason to speed up the dismantling of regulatory and administrative barriers to their deployment.

Nature restoration is also a fundamental part of action required to tackle global warming. Trees, soil, and other natural ecosystems play a crucial role in removing and storing carbon from the atmosphere.

The IPCC has outlined that to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement and limit global warming to 1.5°C we not only need to drastically reduce emissions but also to slow the rate at which we are losing forests and actively replace and restore these areas.

This requires the policy makers, the private sector and civil society coming together to find workable solutions at global, regional, national, and local levels.

Companies in the FMCG sector that I am involved in have a double responsibility. We not only have to strive to reduce our carbon footprint, and source all our ingredients from sustainable sources. We also need to ensure that people can make informed decisions based on objective criteria about the impacts of products they buy. And where appropriate we can also use our connections with consumers to encourage them to do more themselves – like The Big Rewild a campaign my company is running to involve our customers in nature restoration efforts in their local areas.

We have seen in polling across different European markets that citizens are strongly supportive of efforts to preserve nature.

But any specific initiatives need to be underpinned by robust policies, ambitious targets, and substantial support schemes.

That is why it is crucial that we do get a UN agreement on post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework later this year. And why is important that a blueprint for EU nature restoration targets is put back on the table in the coming months.

What we need is joined-up thinking and political ambition to address the intersectional challenges of improving livelihoods for farmers and farm workers, producing the food we need, combatting climate change and reversing loss of natural habitats.

Clearly, this is no easy task. But if we delay action now, we risk paying a much higher price in a future that may not be as distant as we think.

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