EU Biodiversity Strategy: A time of transformative change

With the EU Biodiversity Strategy turning one year old in May, Environment Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius reviews its accomplishments and sets out what the future holds.
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By Virginijus Sinkevicius

Virginijus Sinkevicius is European Commissioner for the Environment, Oceans and Fisheries.

11 May 2021

Last year’s EU Biodiversity Strategy was born in a time of crisis. With more vaccines being developed, there is hope that the pandemic will soon end. However, the biodiversity crisis continues, with a million species worldwide facing extinction. In Europe, only 15 percent of our protected habitats and 27 percent of non-bird species assessments report a healthy status, while 63 percent are in a bad or poor status and just six percent are improving.

We are not set apart from nature. Its state determines our own health and our long-term security. It sustains us, contributes to our wellbeing, and forms a barrier against extreme events and zoonoses; our recovery from the pandemic should therefore also include the recovery of nature. That was always the thinking behind the Biodiversity Strategy; investing in the health of our ecosystems and our natural capital - including restoring carbon-rich habitats - in biodiversity-friendly agriculture and in greener cities. This is essential for fighting climate change in a manner that also offers high economic potential.

“We are not set apart from nature. Its state determines our own health and our long-term security. It sustains us, contributes to our wellbeing, and forms a barrier against extreme events and zoonoses”

It’s a coherent strategy, with over 100 actions. Six have now been completed or are approaching completion (including a knowledge centre for biodiversity, guidance on identifying and designating additional protected areas and an action plan for organic farming), with the remainder under way. I expect some 40 of these actions to be completed this year; what follows is a brief overview of the most important.

Work is rapidly advancing on nature restoration targets. The preferred legislative instrument will be a strategic effort, with deadlines and binding targets sufficiently specific to bring about change. Ecosystems with the highest potential to capture and store carbon, which are best suited to preventing and reducing the impact of natural disasters, will be a priority. Work is continuing on the impact assessment, and the proposal should be presented before the end of the year.

Major strategies will also be presented in the near future for forests and soils. The Forest Strategy, which includes a roadmap for planting at least three billion additional trees by 2030, is approaching completion. It will have two main objectives: protecting and restoring forests and supporting their socioeconomic functions. I am determined to ensure that it enhances the sector’s ability to contribute to EU priorities, boosts the development of rural areas and delivers sustainable forest management across the EU.

The European Green Deal makes a commitment to addressing soil health and fertility and increasing soil organic matter comprehensively, with the adoption of a new EU Soil Strategy. This is a vision built around sustainable practices for soil management. Here too, there is a major role for restoration, which involves identifying contaminated sites, reconditioning degraded soils, defining ‘good ecological status’ for soil, and improving the monitoring of soil quality. Public consultations are ongoing for both forests and soil. 

We are also making good progress in unlocking the €20bn per year for biodiversity announced in the Strategy. The inter-institutional agreement, providing 7.5 percent in 2024 and 10 percent in 2026 and 2027,  of annual spending under the EU’s Multiannual Financial Framework to biodiversity objectives, represents a major step. Negotiations on several EU funding instruments have resulted in provisions for biodiversity. Let’s hope that the ongoing negotiations on the Common Agricultural Policy will also deliver, and we also count on the ambition of Member States in developing their national strategic plans.

Other major initiatives to be completed this year include a new legislative proposal to address deforestation. This involves avoiding or minimising products associated with deforestation or forest degradation reaching the EU market. There is also a new action plan to conserve fisheries resources and protect marine ecosystems. We are also planning a revision of the Action Plan Against Wildlife Trafficking, for which a public consultation will soon be launched, and I expect a Commission Communication before the end of the year. The publication of a report on the review of the EU Pollinators Strategy is imminent; this will trigger consultations on the planned revision and reinforcement of the strategy in 2022.

However, the most important of this years’ priorities is the international agreement on biodiversity to be brokered in Kunming, China, this autumn. The EU Biodiversity Strategy is an excellent calling card to lay on the desks of world leaders, showing how a high level of ambition and a strong measure of realism can be combined in a practical manner.

The deal we need must be good for nature and good for people. It must include quantifiable measures to address direct and indirect drivers of loss, such as the target to protect 30 percent of our lands by 2030. As with the Paris Climate Agreement, we need much stronger provisions on monitoring and review, and clarity on how these changes will come about.

Above all, the new agreement must deliver immediate action for transformational change. There is now a vital need to reverse the harmful trends I referred to above, and to help our planet recover. Without urgent action, and a global agreement on radical change, the natural systems upon which humanity depends risk to collapse. This is the year, and now is the time, to make transformative, long-term, ambitious decisions for future generations. This is the message I intend to repeat.