A 2030 outlook on EU biodiversity policy

Leading up to IEEP's Think 2030 conference, experts express their views on Europe's most pressing sustainability issues in the Think 2030 blog series, Pathways to 2030. 

The eighth edition of Pathways to 2030 features Gustavo Becerra, Erik Gerritsen and Marianne Kettunen, policy analysts for IEEP, who discuss lessons learnt from the EU current biodiversity policy framework and its challenges for the next decade.

The unique biodiversity of Europe is threatened by numerous pressures of anthropogenic origin, as recently confirmed by the International Panel for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES, 2018). The EU, party to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) since its beginning in 1992, has long been a front-runner in biodiversity conservation, starting with the adoption of the Birds Directive in 1979. At the start of the current decade, a set of ambitious targets were set to be achieved by 2020.

Efforts towards EU 2020 biodiversity targets have resulted in measurable progress.

The Natura 2000 network has increased significantly over the past decade and now covers more than 18% of the EU land area. Between 2008 and 2018, the marine Natura 2000 network grew more than fourfold to cover 360,000 km2 today. Many bird species have recorded increases in their populations, and the status of many other species and habitats has significantly improved in places where targeted action was taken (EEA, 2015). This included some remarkable conservation successes, such as pulling the world’s most endangered cat species back from the brink of extinction. It is also encouraging that the overall biodiversity loss in Europe has slowed down significantly and in some Member States such as the Netherlands it seems to have been halted, be it at a low level and with large differences between habitats and species.  Furthermore, in 2015 the Invasive Alien Species (IAS) regulation entered into force, under which all EU Member States are committed to a range of actions to tackle the increasing threat posed by IAS on EU native species and ecosystems.

However, the evidence, including reviews to inform the Biodiversity Strategy mid-term review, indicate that the overall targets to be achieved by 2020 will not be met.

There is a need therefore to review the current EU biodiversity strategy, develop clear and SMART targets, and spur the debate on the most pressing issues. A key area that will require action is the creation of effective bottom-up approaches towards achieving societal recognition of the value of biodiversity to our development and well-being. Policy action is also needed in relation to existing EU policies such as the Birds and Habitats Directives, the Water Framework Directive and the Marine Strategy Framework Directive, since they have generally shown to be fit for purpose, but fail to fully deliver due to late and inadequate implementation (e.g. see here). Moreover, despite attempts to improve the green credentials of EU agriculture and fisheries policies, they have failed to effectively integrate biodiversity protection to meet the objectives. In addition, EU biodiversity spending through targeted funding such as the LIFE programme would have to substantially increase to deliver set targets, especially as the proposals for the 2021-2027 Multiannual Financial Framework indicate limited targeted biodiversity focus and more Member State flexibility under key EU sectoral funds (e.g. rural development), sending a worrying signal ahead of the 2020 biodiversity deadline.

Last but not least, EU should do more to address global biodiversity loss through coordinated action at Member State level. In particular, it is striking that while climate change has gathered much international attention, global biodiversity loss has so far failed to attract the same level of attention and policy action. As an indication, during the 2014-2020 period the estimated EU external funding for projects with biodiversity as their primary objective has been estimated at only around EUR 114-140 million per year (Kettunen 2018). In comparison, EU support to the global climate change agenda is considerably more substantial, with the annual financial allocation from the EU budget to initiatives with climate as primary objective estimated at around EUR 207 million in 2014.

Without timely plans for an ambitious post-2020 EU regime, the EU risks diminishing its influence internationally ahead of the fifteenth meeting of the CBD Conference of the Parties in 2020, where the global 2050 Vision should be set out, including clearer links to be established with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. With the biodiversity community expressing interest in following in the footsteps of the international framework for climate, the EU could take leadership in critically reviewing the lessons learnt from implementation of the Paris Agreement to date (e.g. its multi-stakeholder engagement) with a view to identify possible improvements needed for adoption of a similar approach in the context of biodiversity.

The EU is now at a crossroads similar to the one ahead of the development of the EU 2020 Biodiversity Strategy.

A worrying lack of political attention by the key EU institutions to strategic biodiversity action beyond 2020 is apparent, with France as a notable exception. It is critical that the EU political drive on biodiversity action gathers momentum once again and Member States and Parliament swiftly and decisively adopt an ambitious joint position on an EU policy framework to better value biodiversity and reverse its decline by 2030.

In partnership with GLOBE EU, IEEP is creating a new sustainability platform, Think 2030, which will convene a wide range of stakeholders to discuss and propose solutions to EU environmental challenges. A dedicated session on post-2020 EU biodiversity framework will be held on October 17 that will contribute to spur debate on these issues.