EU Biodiversity Strategy: a major step forward

Frans Timmermans launches the BioStrategy with Commisioners Kyriakides (Health, Food Safety) & Sinkevičius (Environment)

The EU 2030 Biodiversity Strategy published on 20th May retains the visionary key targets in its earlier version. 

Proper implementation of the Strategy will require adequate funding and enforcement on the ground. Nonetheless the Commission is to be congratulated for sticking to its guns, so far, in advocating necessarily ambitious objectives for protection and restoration.

This represents good news for large natural ecosystem areas (“wilderness”) and natural forests – responding positively to major requests in Wild Europe’s most recent representation to Frans Timmermans and the Commissioners for Environment, Agriculture & Rural Development and Energy.

Strong EC Commitments to protection

Key commitments by the Commission in the Biodiversity Strategy include

Ecologically priceless, beautiful – but is it protected? Matthias Schickhofer

Legal protection by 2030 for a minimum 30% of the EU’s land and seas:

  • Strict protection for at least a third of these Protected Areas – ie 10% of total area, offering great potential for large natural ecosystem areas
  • This stipulation includes strict protection of all remaining EU old growth/primary forests along with other ecosystems
  • Establishment of comprehensive green & blue ecological connectivity
  • Call for effective definitions, mapping and management of the above – with implicit funding availability

For restoration – there is a new EU Nature Restoration Plan, with core focus on ecosystem services:

  • Legally binding Nature Restoration Targets by 2021 for degraded ecosystems
  • These include no deterioration in PA conservation status by 2030
The Great Fen – international icon for peatland restoration, IUCN UK National Committee
  • Criteria for additional areas to be determined at national level by end 2021, with effective action by 2023
  • 3 billion trees planted by 2030 (natural forest is needed)
  • 25,000 km of free flowing rivers, which can be linked to ‘blue connectivity’ and basin-scale flood mitigation, including restoration of riverine, flood sink and upland watershed forest and wetland
  • A new CAP to deliver at least 10% of agricultural area under “high diversity landscape features”. Wild Europe will be re-stressing its proposal for a supplementary Ecological Focus Area, tradable at regional level, to promote creation of consolidated large areas of natural ecosystem funded by CAP

A more mixed picture for renewable

energy

For renewable energy, and the related RE Strategy, the picture is more mixed. 

A stain on the EU image: subsidised destruction of beech forest for commercial burning
  • Wording of permitted inputs for bioenergy remains significantly vague. Use of whole trees should be disallowed for financial support, not just “minimised”
  • It is unclear whether improved operational guidance on RED II sustainability criteria will support further improvements needed to recent TEG Taxonomy suggestions 
  • Subsidies for wood burning bioenergy must cease forthwith or this damaging practice, now representing half of timber consumption in Europe, will continue to undermine all eight elements of the EU Green Deal and compromise the EU’s coveted position as global leader in sound environmental practice. A poor image at COP15 in Kunming, 2021.

As Environment Commissioner Sinkevicius said at the Biodiversity Strategy launch “We cannot halt and reverse biodiversity loss without achieving Paris Agreement goals, and vice versa”.

Next steps in implementation

Much work is required to translate the 2030 Biodiversity Strategy commitments into adequate action.

  • Protection of old growth/primary forest should involve linkage of fragmented remnants and restoration of adjacent areas to enable proper ecosystem function and resilience 
  • The importance of scale and the central role of non-intervention management in delivering ecosystem services for strictly protected areas needs full recognition and application
  • The EC should promote the objectives of its Biodiversity Strategy in non EU European countries: through neighbour agreements, accession treaties, trade & aid policies, exchange of best practice
  • The 2021 EU Forestry Strategy needs to be truly aligned to biodiversity objectives with appropriate conservation measures
  • The new Forest Information System for Europe (FISE) should be an effective instrument for protection as well as restoration
  • Capacity building must address major gaps in the conservation sector’s ability to utilise macro-economic approaches and PES enterprise (payment for ecosystem services) for achievement of biodiversity objectives
  • The ‘significant proportion’ of the 25% EU budget on climate change to be spent on nature-based solutions needs clearly elaborating, along with other funding instruments – including the Recovery Instrument.
A strategy for all of Europe

A strategy for all of Europe 

The European Commission should also promote the objectives of its Biodiversity Strategy in non EU European countries.

Many of these contain the most valuable remaining areas of natural ecology in our continent, but generally have the lowest budgets for protection and the least effective legal protection. The EC can achieve much here: through neighbour agreements, accession treaties, trade & aid policies, exchange of best practice.

Implementation of Stage II of the current EU Wilderness Register, proposed by Wild Europe, will be an important step here. This would incorporate non EU countries into the existing Register and focus on non-extractive enterprise to secure conservation funding and local community and landholder support from the PES agenda

Funding and enforcement

The 20 bn Euro funding per year is relatively under budgeted for the scale of the task, and will have to come from private as well as public funds

There is additionally a ‘significant proportion’ of the 25% EU budget on climate change to be spent on nature-based solutions. This allocation needs clearly elaborating, along with other funding instruments – including the Recovery Initiative.

The need to ensure full enforcement is also critical. Many areas in the Natura 2000 network have little or no appropriate protection. Poor management at local level and slow prosecution are a major problem – with Court action at EC level (ECJ) on infringements of environmental law often being a very slow process.

Another glaringly simple problem is key habitats such as old growth forest are still not directly identified as requiring protection – one reason among many why the EU Guidelines on the Management of Wilderness and Wild Areas now need a Stage II version.

Effective reform of the Arhus Convention, strengthening access to information and justice for NGOs and individual citizens, will be helpful.

A complete overhaul of the Environmental Impact Assessment procedure is also urgently needed.

Congratulations and cooperation

Subject to the above, the EU is to be warmly congratulated for advocating the visionary aims in its Biodiversity Strategy that are so critical for addressing the dual crises of climate change and species extinction.

For its part Wild Europe also looks forward to liaising closely with representatives from forestry and land user sectors – including CEPF, EUSTAFOR and EFI – in identifying common ground and ensuring benefit for local landholders and communities as well as conservation.