Posted on Jun 17, 2015

EU running risk of another year of biodiversity and ecosystem failure

Europe’s 2020 goal of reversing biodiversity loss is ‘pure fiction’, but there is still time to save what’s left, says Pavel Poc, vice-chair of parliament’s environment, public health and food safety committee.

In 2010 – ironically, the international year of biodiversity – the EU failed to reach its target for that year on the reduction of biodiversity loss. Of course, ambitious new plans were immediately set up to replace the previous goal, with the hope the past mistakes had been learned from.
Now, halfway to the 2020 end date for these new targets on halting biodiversity loss and the degradation of ecosystem services, there remain serious challenges. And it would appear that this new strategy will meet the same fate as the 2010 goals.

As the European environment agency – in its 2015 report on the state of the environment – indicates, the EU is unlikely to meet its main 2020 biodiversity objectives.
Consistent loss of habitat, widespread pollution, over-exploitation of resources and the growing impact of invasive alien species and climate change contribute to this disaster.
Nevertheless, on a more positive note, it is important to acknowledge that thanks to current EU biodiversity policies, the protection of certain species and habitats has seen some progress, and consequently pressures on biodiversity have been somewhat reduced. Freshwater ecosystems are reaping the benefits of an improvement in water quality.

There is less pressure from agriculture, thanks to a reduction in nitrogen losses from fertilisers and a boost in organic farming. Europe’s forest area is slightly increasing, and timber harvests from European forests are generally sustainable. Natura 2000 covered some 18 per cent of EU land area in 2013, offering habitats and species a certain degree of protection.

The EU’s ‘nature directives’ have become a backbone of European biodiversity protection policies and, despite a long and complex process for their implementation, they contribute substantially to the conservation of natural habitats and species.
Parliament and council agreed last year on a legislative framework to regulate invasive alien species, which, if implemented properly, could constitute a bold step towards fulfilling one of the six targets covered by the EU biodiversity strategy up to 2020.
In any case, implementation of the legal framework in the member states, proper financing and appropriate management of the protected areas remain a serious challenge and without major changes, 2020 will mark yet another year of biodiversity failure.
Even the best laws, when ignored, have no impact on reality, but with the conditions outlined above in place, the existing legislative framework has shown itself capable of halting the decline of protected habitats and species.
The new commission has launched a ‘fitness check’ of EU legislation in order to analyse whether EU actions are proportionate to their objectives and delivering as expected.

Among others, European environment, maritime affairs and fisheries commissioner Karmenu Vella has been asked to ‘carry out an in-depth evaluation of the birds and habitats directives and assess the potential for merging them into a more modern piece of legislation’. This is wasting time that we do not have.
Instead of evaluating regulatory measures, we should ensure the full implementation of existing legislation as well as proper financing and management. We should not start rebuilding the basecamp when we are halfway to the summit.
In this particular case, we should stick to the six targets covered by the EU biodiversity strategy to 2020 and focus more on how we can protect not only European, but global, biological diversity.
We need to focus on the five principal pressures directly driving biodiversity loss – habitat loss, overexploitation, pollution, invasive alien species and climate change, which are either constant or increasing in intensity.
I am against economic pricing in the field of biodiversity. It assumes that what is priced can be restored for that amount, but this is misleading. Once we lose a species, there is no way back and money won’t change anything.

Unfortunately, in this unhappy era, economic arguments are often the only ones that make a difference for some. Therefore, there must be an awareness that biodiversity loss is estimated to reduce the EU’s GDP by three per cent each year, and the trend is worsening.
It is estimated that the degradation of ecosystem services, while they are being submitted to increasing human pressure, is likely to cost the world around seven per cent of its GDP by 2050.

It is good to remind ourselves that the 2020 biodiversity strategy is titled ‘Our life insurance, our natural capital’.
While its aim to reverse the loss of biodiversity is pure fiction, we can still speed up the transition to a green economy, and salvage what we still have.
However, without concerted and focused efforts, the EU is seriously failing to deliver – once again – on its biodiversity objectives, and ultimately, on growth and prosperity.

Written by Pavel Poc, 3 June 2015 in Feature

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