Celebrating biodiversity and the European lessons learnt protecting it

As celebrated at a high-level conference tomorrow EU conference Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services: a common agenda to 2020 and beyond  EU efforts to protect biodiversity go back exactly 40 years this year with the adoption of the Birds Directive in 1979. The Habitats Directive followed in 1992, and the Natura 2000 network of protected areas underpinned by these two nature directives. They are now the backbone of the EU’s Biodiversity Strategy and our contribution to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity and the Sustainable Development Goals.  The first comprehensive assessment on the state of global biodiversity since 2003 was published two weeks ago by the International Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), the biodiversity-counterpart to the much better known IPCCC on climate. It demonstrated that current negative trends in biodiversity and ecosystems will undermine progress towards 35 of the 44 SDG targets related to poverty, hunger, health, water, cities, climate, oceans and land IPBES Global Assessment Summary for Policymakers. The IPBES concludes that development goals for 2030 and beyond can only be achieved through ‘transformative changes across economic, social, political and technological factors’ and identifies five main levers of change, including ‘environmental law and (its) implementation’. This demonstrates the ongoing importance of an ambitious EU biodiversity policy framework - not only for nature itself, but our human well-being and development that depends on it.

All experts agree that the EU has again failed to deliver on its Biodiversity Strategy’s 2020 targets, yet the mid-term review in 2016 demonstrated progress in some areas European Commission: Protecting Europe's nature: more ambition needed to halt biodiversity loss by 2020. One of these is the implementation of the EU nature directives. A new study by IEEP and partners for the European Commission identifies the main success factors underpinning conservation successes for habitats and species protected under the two directives New study: Drivers of conservation success in the EU. The study draws on Member State monitoring and reporting data as well as 53 in-depth case studies across the EU. The findings confirm the importance of protected areas as the cornerstones of conservation strategies; by securing key nature hotspots and by acting as a catalyst and focus for concerted action. Most of the successful conservation cases were made possible by targeted research supporting adaptive management. The cases also show how the genuine and early participation of key stakeholders is crucial. The report’s findings bear testimony to the significant efforts made by a wide range of stakeholders to make EU nature policy a success, and provide a helpful resource to further enhance its implementation.

Despite these conservation successes, the IPBES and EU’s own assessments point to a significant gap in policy and political ambition. The end of the EU’s current biodiversity strategy and other EU environmental commitments next year begs the question: how can the EU step up and bring the biodiversity-dependent SDGs for 2030 back on target? To help answer this question IEEP and GLOBE EU have built a new evidence-based, non-partisan platform to identify science-policy solutions for a more sustainable Europe. The platform, called Think 2030, now has 100 leading policy experts from European think tanks, civil society, the private sector and local authorities who pull resources together to inform EU policy delivery on the SDGs to 2030. In 2018, the Think 2030 platform developed a series of policy papers. One paper synthesises the key lessons learnt from implementing the EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2020 to inform Europe’s post-2020 biodiversity policy framework Think 2030 policy paper: Valuing biodiversity and reversing its decline by 2030. The central argument of the Think 2030 paper is the need for a broader and deeper shared societal recognition of the value of biodiversity to our development and well-being. This need is also reflected in the theme of this year’s international biodiversity day: ‘Our Biodiversity, Our Food, Our Health’. The theme is particularly fitting in an EU-context, where farmland biodiversity indicators keep on falling EEA Common birds and –butterfly indices and unsustainable food production and -consumption choices continue to represent a significant share of the EU’s ecological footprint for example through imported deforestation. The incoming European Parliament and -Commission will be immediately hard-pressed to act on policies critical for biodiversity, with pending decisions on the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy, a strategy on Stepping up EU Action against Deforestation and Forest Degradation, a review of the Water Framework Directive and of course the new EU policy framework for biodiversity beyond 2020.

As IEEP’s recent study on conservation success drivers shows, there is, luckily, a wealth of positive experience that EU decision makers can build on. Each positive case study in the report was made possible by often opposing interests coming together around a common passion or concern, and jointly finding the means to turn the tide. Therefore, today’s celebration should cherish the wonders of life as well as the continued effort made by a diversity of stakeholders to better value and protect them.