Biodiversity needs more and not less Europe

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 eleventh edition of Pathways to 2030 features Christian Hey, Member of IEEP's Strategic Advisory Board. 
In the face of a 6th mass exitinction of species, Hey argues for an integrated modernisation strategy called sustainable intensification, which creates incentives for a more selective use of pesticides and radical reduction of nutrient surpluses beyond the requirements of the Nitrates Directive.

We face the 6th mass extinction of species in Earth's history.

Indicators of biodiversity collapse also apply for Europe and are alarming. The main causes of this depravity are well known: loss of habitats and landscape elements, intensive farming practices, land use changes, excessive use of pesticides and nutrients and climate change.

Trend changes require a radically reformed Common Agriculture Policy (CAP), creating new market opportunities for those farmers who manage their land for the benefit of biodiversity, allow for wild flowers growing, landscape elements, offer habitats for insects, birds and mammals living in agricultural areas.  If we fail to do so now, we face an irreversible loss.

What is needed is an integrated modernisation strategy called sustainable intensification, which creates incentives for a more selective use of pesticides and radical reduction of nutrient surpluses beyond the requirements of the Nitrates Directive. Licensing of pesticides needs to be considerably improved in view of the sublethal and systemic effects on biodiversity. Sustainable intensification substitutes the level of harmful inputs through knowledge and ecosystem based methods of pest control.

Furthermore, a focussed strategy on managing high nature value areas by ecological intensification is necessary. Ecological intensification reverses the hierarchy of coupled production of food and nature. It puts high value nature first. This requires targeted financing and incentives.

Organic farming presently is the method of production most compatible with biodiversity. However, present standards for organic farming are not sufficient to maintain suitable habitats or to ensure management practices compatible with the survival of birds and mammals living in agricultural areas. We need an organic+ initiative, acknowledging and strengthening those additional practices.

The EU must play a pivotal role for many of the necessary changes ahead, but instead of taking up on this challenge the responsibilities are renationalised.

EU financing for agri-environmental measures will be reduced. These plans need to be reversed. If the next financing period for the Common Agricultural Policy fails to set an appropriate framework, as the current proposals of the Commission do, than the alarming trends will deepen and threaten to become irreversible. A part of our cultural heritage – and the natural environment in Europe is integral to Europe’s culture - will be lost for ever. Only a stronger approach by the EU on targeted nature financing within the CAP will be able to reverse the trend. Biodiversity needs more and not less Europe!

Last but not least, strategies that change dietary habits are needed.

Less animal proteins are healthier and by far more compatible with models of less extensive use of land. However, such changes of life-styles are more successfully prompted through a bottom up process, than they are suitable for top-down governance.  Soft governance approaches might increase the success through providing information, assisting regional network building, and support local initiatives.  

What is needed are new alliances of farmers, nature conservation, public policy, consumers, the retail sector and science to save the remaining elements of a valuable heritage and an important contribution to our wealth.

Disclaimer: Views presented in this article do not necessarily represent the views of IEEP and are of the sole responsibility of the author. 

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.