With China having been due to host COP15 to the Convention on Biological Diversity towards the end of the year, 2020 was to be the year of biodiversity. It will, unfortunately, be the year of the Coronavirus health crisis. And yet it is highly probable that the two are connected and that COVID-19, just as Ebola, HIV, SARS, or avian and swine influenzas were, is one of the illustrations of the disastrous impact of humankind on biodiversity.
If we review recent years, even recent months, the symptoms of mishandled biodiversity are numerous: the decline of pollinators, devastating forest fires, and now a dramatic pandemic. Humankind is at the source of them all, whether through intensive farming, deforestation, or trading and consumption of wildlife. According to the IPBES report of 2019, three quarters of the terrestrial environment and around 66 percent of the marine environment have been significantly modified by human action.
That is why it is no longer the time for unachieved objectives and trivial measures. If 2020 is not the year of biodiversity, let it at least be the year of awareness. Awareness that by destroying biodiversity, it is humankind itself, above all, that it endangers. Because, from food to oxygen, via energy, medicine, raw materials or climatic control, biodiversity is vital to us.
An ambitious, precise and effective framework to combat its erosion urgently needs to be defined internationally, with ultimately a legally binding agreement. That agreement, as sought by the European Parliament in the resolution on COP15 for which I was co-rapporteur, will have to contain precise, and above all, measurable objectives. That is to say that strict monitoring will have to be carried out within each State. In short, we will have to be accountable.
"From food to oxygen, via energy, medicine, raw materials or climatic control, biodiversity is vital to us"
At European level, it will be the strategy for biodiversity 2030 which will be decisive and above all, the texts which arise from it and its concrete application. There must be no taboos. If the response involves increasing our protected zones, whether marine or terrestrial, it will not be the be-all and end-all of what we will have to organise.
All the more so as, most unfortunately, when we set up a protected zone, we consider that outside it everything is allowed, even the most inept practices. Other strong measures will have to be placed on the agenda. Two examples: The COVID-19 crisis, sadly, has demonstrated the need to regulate, as a matter of urgency, trade in exotic species. It is a vector of dangerous zoonoses for humankind and disastrous for wildlife, in the countries of origin as well as in the destination countries.
This trade, plagued by widespread trafficking, must be brought under more control. I want the European Commission to look into the creation of a positive list of authorised species, so that harmonisation within the single market will permit effective controls and clear rules. That list already exists, in Belgium, for example, and is proving its worth. We will also need to analyse our impact on biodiversity through our imports and to rethink our consumption.
It is no use blaming third countries if we are among the purveyors of bad practices on their territories. By making use of what already exists like the Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Programme and the regulations concerning wood and its by-products, the Commission needs to envisage stricter criteria for imports of agricultural products and to develop our certification systems.
Finally, biodiversity will have to become a priority for EU Member States and all their federated states or local authorities, from regions to towns. They will have to actually implement international objectives and the European strategy. For example, for coastal states, the number of protected maritime zones will need to be increased, or small-scale fishing will need to be supported rather than intensive practices.
"The COVID-19 crisis, sadly, has demonstrated the need to regulate, as a matter of urgency, trade in exotic species"
In mountainous zones, the development of pastoralism favouring biodiversity, which has been neglected in the past, should be intensified. The primary forests of each state will also have to be preserved and sustainable management of forests encouraged. In towns, plans will be needed to bring an end to over-densification, to the increasing artificialisation of soil and the disappearance of wetlands.
The COVID-19 crisis brings to light more than ever humankind’s impact on biodiversity and our planet. That is why some people’s call to abort the EU Green Deal in favour of relaunching our economy is sacrilege. That will amount to relaunching the economy by plunging it headlong into the next crisis, offering it the sole future prospect of jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire.
I understand that the EU strategy for biodiversity may have been deferred for a few months but let us now use this time to draw all the conclusions from the crisis we are going through to ultimately implement some concrete measures.