The Biodiversity Strategy, part of the European Green Deal and particularly timely ahead of Friday’s Biodiversity Day, aims to combat biodiversity loss, described as one of the biggest threats faced by humanity.
According to the Commission, the strategy seeks to “put Europe's biodiversity on the path to recovery by 2030” and ensure external policies and actions “do not negatively impact” biodiversity abroad.
It includes key elements for the UN-level 2020 global biodiversity framework to be adopted in 2021.
The strategy, entitled “Bringing nature back into our lives” includes a proposal for land protection, which is set to increase from 26 percent today to at least 30 percent by 2030. One third of the whole network of protected areas will, it is hoped, be covered by strict protection.
On Wednesday, a Commission spokesman said, “Adopted in the heart of the COVID-19 pandemic, the strategy is a central element of the EU's recovery plan, crucial to preventing and building resilience to future outbreaks and providing immediate business and investment opportunities for restoring the EU's economy.”
“It also aims to make biodiversity considerations an integral part of EU's overall economic growth strategy.”
Virginijus Sinkevičius, EU Commissioner for the Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, said, “Nature is vital for our physical and mental wellbeing, it filters our air and water, it regulates the climate and it pollinates our crops. But we are acting as if it didn't matter and losing it at an unprecedented rate.”
“This new Biodiversity Strategy builds on what has worked in the past and adds new tools that will set us on a path to true sustainability, with benefits for all. The EU's aim is to protect and restore nature, to contribute to economic recovery from the current crisis, and to lead the way for an ambitious global framework to protect biodiversity around the planet.”
"The EU's aim is to protect and restore nature, to contribute to economic recovery from the current crisis, and to lead the way for an ambitious global framework to protect biodiversity around the planet" Virginijus Sinkevičius, EU Commissioner for the Environment, Oceans and Fisheries
Reaction from the NGO world was swift, with the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) welcoming the strategy that “sets ambitious and much-needed objectives and actions to restore the environment.”
An IFAW statement said, “It importantly acknowledges the link between the current COVID-19 pandemic – and other zoonotic diseases – and the impact of wildlife trade on our environment. It is essential that the global recovery from this crisis includes green measures that aim to better protect and restore biodiversity.”
Staci McLennan, Director of IFAW’s EU Office, said, “Nature has for far too long suffered from human activities and we are now paying the price. It is time to take serious and concrete actions to tackle the challenge of biodiversity loss for a world where people and animals can thrive together.”
Elsewhere, Jori Ringman, director general at Cepi, the Confederation of European Paper Industries - the European association representing the paper industry – was less enthusiastic, saying, “The proposal seems to miss that biodiversity is looked after in all areas, not only in protected ones, and is already part of sustainable forest management.”
“These targets must be carefully reconsidered as they would decrease sustainable mobilisation of locally sourced raw materials in the EU. This would put at risk advancing the resilient circular economy and EU’s climate neutrality objectives.”
Friends of the Earth Europe, meanwhile, said the strategy includes “some positive commitments”, including an aim to complete the Natura 2000 network and, together with nationally protected areas, bring 30 percent of EU land under protection.
"It [the Biodiversity Strategy] importantly acknowledges the link between the current COVID-19 pandemic – and other zoonotic diseases – and the impact of wildlife trade on our environment" International Fund for Animal Welfare
It also says the strategy tasks the EU with setting up binding restoration targets for degraded habitat and proposes that at least 25 percent of the EU’s agricultural land must be under organic farming by 2030. This, it points out, is also included in the Farm to Fork Strategy.
However, the proposals will be voluntary rather than binding - meaning the impact is “likely to be minimal” - so it is “vital they are transformed into concrete legislation,” it adds.
Friedrich Wulf, international biodiversity campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe, commented, “This is a welcome first step, but its good words and positive intentions need to be taken up by the rest of the Commission by updating outdated growth-driven policies to make sure nature is preserved.”
“This should start with a massive overhaul of the Common Agricultural Policy to make sure it phases out factory farming, pesticides and excessive fertiliser use and ensures that our food is produced by sustainable local farmers.”
Wendel Trio, director of Climate Action Network (CAN) Europe, welcomed both strategies, telling this website, “Together with enhanced climate action, biodiversity restoration and the promotion of sustainable farming practices are key to reaching the goals of the Paris Agreement and building more resilient and sustainable economies in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
“These environmental strategies are an important step forward as biodiversity protection and climate change mitigation will bring more resilience and are mutually reinforcing. Healthy ecosystems will protect us from other, potential health crises like COVID-19, and will speed up the transition of Europe to climate neutrality.”
MEPs have also responded to the strategy announcement, with the S&D Group in Parliament saying it “strongly welcomes” the new initiative.
"Together with enhanced climate action, biodiversity restoration and the promotion of sustainable farming practices are key to reaching the goals of the Paris Agreement and building more resilient and sustainable economies in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic" Wendel Trio, Climate Action Network Europe
S&D rapporteur for the Biodiversity Strategy, César Luena, noted, “Following our successful efforts to declare a climate and environmental emergency by the Parliament and in view of the alarming loss of biodiversity and degradation of ecosystems, there is an urgent need to reverse the current trends by addressing all drivers of biodiversity loss with concrete actions and ambitious binding objectives.”
“The EU is not set to meet its biodiversity objectives for 2020. The 2030 Biodiversity Strategy is a good starting point, but we must make sure that this time we will meet our goals.”
He went on, “We are glad to see that a number of our S&D demands are included in the strategy, such as the protection of at least 30 percent of EU land and marine ecosystems, the setting of a binding reduction target on the use of pesticides and protection of primary forests. We have also been calling for a binding restoration target of at least 30 percent.”