EU must prioritise nature in its next long-term budget

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

There are more than 26,000 species under threat of extinction. [Lightspring/Shutterstock]

The future of Europe is at stake as European leaders meet this week. Now is the opportunity to safeguard European biodiversity, writes Luc Bas.

Luc Bas is the director of the European Regional Office of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

On 13-14 December, European leaders will meet for a European Council summit. The summit marks a key moment in deciding on the next Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF), which determines European Union budget spending from 2021-2027, as European leaders will substantially discuss the proposals for the first time.

Decisions made on the MFF will have important ramifications for how Europe can act to preserve nature and tackle climate change. The MFF will provide the funding to carry out crucial action and implement projects across the European Union, its overseas entities and further afield as well as influence key areas of policy such as agriculture and development aid.

We therefore stand at a crossroads, and the MFF needs to provide the right funding to start a real reversal of biodiversity loss and to assure that we deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.

The IUCN Red List shows that there are more than 26,000 species under threat of extinction. Hence Europe should use this opportunity to halt biodiversity decline and safeguard nature in the long term.

 Mainstreaming nature and climate change

An MFF that is ambitious in tackling biodiversity loss and environmental degradation should seriously consider a 50% target covering both climate and the environment as advocated by nature conservation NGOs.

That said, one can argue that the whole budget, which is funded by public money, should be nature and climate proof. A budget that contributes to more biodiversity loss or acceleration of climate change can undo the extra efforts of mainstreaming in other parts. Public money should protect public goods.

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report released in October showed that allowing a 2 degree instead of a 1.5-degree rise in global temperature would lead to twice the number of plants and vertebrate species losing half of their geographical range, while the loss of insects would be 3 times greater.

This mass decline of species would not only be devastating for biodiversity itself.  For instance, many more pollinator species would face significant decline, thus undermining the security of our food systems. High EU budget ambition is essential to really turn away from ‘business as usual’ with its devastating impacts.

Furthermore, greater action to address climate change and environmental degradation does not come at the cost of prosperity. On the contrary, it can help make jobs more sustainable, boost the economy and enhance societal well-being

Nature-based solutions, meaning protecting, sustainably managing or restoring ecosystems to address societal challenges allow us to tackle climate change whilst improving both our wellbeing. In fact, nature-based solutions could deliver 37% of cost-effective climate mitigation by 2030.

IUCN therefore sees discussions on climate and environment mainstreaming at the December Council as of high importance. We were glad to see that the Austrian presidency identified the issue as one that needed further political consideration in November.

Now is the time when European leaders must commit to action to safeguard the environment and the climate and this can start with a higher percentage of the MFF being fixed to tackle climate change and environmental degradation.

A sustainable Common Agricultural Policy

28.5% of the European Commission’s proposal for the new MFF is allocated to the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). The CAP therefore represents a sizeable opportunity, for agriculture to be a driver of European action to preserve and restore nature.

Rural development is a fundamental aspect of the CAP and cuts to rural development funding are inadvisable if we want to protect and restore nature. The future CAP must support farmers in taking action to support biodiversity, enhance soil quality and reduce carbon emissions. A cut to rural development funding would reduce the capacity of farmers to take this action.

Beyond the CAP rural development component, the foreseen direct support to farmers should not undermine the environmental efforts, but rather contribute to these fundamental public goods.

Development aid that recognises the global challenges we face

Aid in the new MFF will be delivered through a new mechanism called the Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument (NDICI). At present, only EUR 3 billion out of a total budget of EUR 89.2 billion is allocated to global challenges, a drastic cut (nearly 2/3) compared to the previous MFF.

The lack of funding for global challenges is of great concern. Without a global focus on issues such as healthy, productive and resilient ecosystems we risk creating a short-term aid policy, where environmental objectives are side-lined in favour of immediate national priorities.

Leaders therefore should urgently review the NDICI proposals when they meet this week at the European Council. It is promising to see that the Austrian Presidency is working on this and has developed a compromise proposal.

Getting development aid right, so that it protects the environment and tackles climate change is critical. Europe cannot solve the problems that we face alone and empowering the rest of the world to act will mean that we can tackle together the global challenges that we face.

The time is now

The MFF proposals as they stand surely can be further improved to make this budget better for nature and better in tackling climate change. We have the knowledge of the threats we face and options to tackle these threats.

What we now need is for leaders to come together and provide the means to shift away from business as usual and start a real shift towards a sustainable future and implementing the SDGs. The European Council meeting this week, with the MFF being discussed, gives European leaders the perfect opportunity to do just that.

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