International Biodiversity Day 2022: Celebrating the road to recovery in the EU

Two years after publication of the EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2030, we take stock of the implementation of its targets and commitments, and of the progress that has been made since. 

May 2022 marks two years since the publication of the EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2030, a core component of the Green Deal. 2030 still seems far off, but nature protection and restoration take time and need to remain high on the EU political agenda. On this International Biodiversity Day, we have reached the halfway point between the adoption of the Strategy and its mid-term review planned for 2024.

According to the Commission’s online EU Biodiversity Strategy Action Tracker and Dashboard, so far 23 actions have been completed, 73 are in progress and 8 have been delayed, showing reasonable progress only two years after the adoption of the Strategy. The Commission has completed many of the commitments it had set itself by adopting key guidance documents and strategies, some of which we discuss in more depth in this blog. These should act as enablers to further actions by Member States and EU institutions.

We look at the progress that has been made in implementing the Strategy and the steps that need to be taken in the future to ensure we remain on the right track.

Protect a minimum of 30% of the EU’s land and sea area

The targets to legally protect a minimum of 30% of the EU’s land and sea area and to strictly protect at least a third of protected areas fall on Member States, who endorsed this ambition in October 2020. The Commission has adopted criteria and guidance on identifying and designating the additional protected areas which will contribute to reaching the targets. The Commission is also expected to adopt two additional guidance documents on monitoring and reporting on protected areas beyond Natura 2000 and on defining, mapping and strictly protecting all primary and old-growth forests.

In the EU, 26% of land is already protected while only 12% of the seas are designated as protected areas, showing different levels of implementation of the target. Effective management of protected areas is essential to make sure that these areas are not only protected on paper but that they deliver for biodiversity. Member States are being asked to explain how they are contributing to the EU-level target in a pledge and review process, which will be a key next step in the implementation of this target next year.

Portugal has set a benchmark by designated Europe’s largest fully protected marine reserve - a new 2,667 square kilometre protected area around the Islas Sevagens, safeguarding an important corridor for migrating fish and marine mammals.

Strengthen the legal framework for nature restoration

One of the strategy’s major targets is to establish legally binding nature restoration targets, and here the Commission’s efforts have been significantly delayed. The proposal for the highly anticipated Nature Restoration Law, which was initially planned in December 2021, is now planned for adoption on 22 June 2022.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has shifted political agendas to a focus on securing the EU’s food and energy supply, and some have called for the Commission to put aside biodiversity and environmental protection, for example by allowing crops to be grown on Ecological Focus Areas. However, nature restoration is vital for our long-term health, sustainable food production, and resilience to the increasing shocks of climate change. Frans Timmermans, the Commission’s Green Deal lead, has confirmed that the proposal will indeed be published on 22 June.

Adopting a legal framework for nature restoration will be a big step to achieving the ambitious objectives of the Strategy and to reverse the trend of biodiversity loss.

Reverse the decline of pollinators

The Strategy includes a target to reverse the decline of pollinators by 2030. The Commission is currently working on revising the 2018 EU Pollinators initiative to enhance its enabling tools and measures. The Commission’s review of progress in the implementation of the EU Pollinators Initiative concluded that efforts will need to be stepped up to address the loss of habitats and the impacts of pesticides on pollinators.

The proposal for an EU pollinator monitoring strategy is a key step towards setting up pollinator monitoring across the EU, so that progress to the target can be tracked and compared, and indicators set in policies such as the Common Agricultural Policy strategic plans.

Forest quantity, health, and resilience

The Commission has made progress to reaching its commitments to protect EU forests with the adoption of the New EU Forest Strategy to 2030 and the Roadmap for planting at least three billion additional trees in the EU by 2030. It is still working on adopting guidance on biodiversity-friendly afforestation and reforestation and closer-to-nature forestry. These guidelines will ensure that the planting of trees respects ecological principles and creates mixed and diverse forests which are adapted to climate change and other challenges.

At the global level, the Commission adopted a Proposal for a Regulation on deforestation-free products. The proposal would prevent certain commodities which are driving deforestation in third countries from entering the EU market. The EU Parliament is currently debating the file, which has been welcomed as a step in the right direction but has also been criticised for not being ambitious enough.

Address land take and restore soil ecosystems

The Commission adopted the EU Soil Strategy to address soil and land degradation and to achieve good soil health by 2050. One of the Strategy’s visions is to achieve an EU net greenhouse gas removal of 310 million tonnes CO2 equivalent per year for the LULUCF sector, which is also one of the main objectives of the proposal for a revision of the LULUCF Regulation released as part of the Fit For 55 package.

The need for restoration is urgent considering that around 60% to 70% of EU soils are not healthy. Strong legally binding targets on soil restoration in the nature restoration law proposal would give teeth to the Soil Strategy and play a big role in meeting the LULUCF target, as IEEP’s blog post highlighted.

Restore freshwater ecosystems

The Commission adopted technical guidance on barrier removal for river restoration to support the target of restoring 25,000 km of free-flowing rivers by 2030, by removing barriers and restoring floodplains and wetlands. The guidance’s purpose is to assist Member States in adopting strategies to identify and prioritise obstacles to be removed in the most environmentally and cost-effective way.

In 2021, the number of river barriers removed in Europe increased by 137% compared to 2020, with Spain removing a third of the total1. These removals have reconnected fish populations with large areas of their old breeding grounds: in Finland’s Hiitolanjoki river, once all three dams have been removed in the next few years the land-locked salmon will spawn 5,000 to 11,000 migratory young fish per year, where a few dozen currently manage to ascend.

Debating the opportunities

The third edition of the Think2030 conference, which will be held in Paris on 29-30 June by IEEP and IDDRI, will be a platform to review the implementation of the EU Green Deal. The biodiversity roundtable will discuss a set of recommendations on how to ensure the successful implementation of the upcoming Nature Restoration Law.

Biodiversity Day is an excellent opportunity to refresh the commitments of the Biodiversity Strategy and ensure that they remain high on the EU political agenda, especially in the lead up to the long-awaited 15th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity. Implementing the Green Deal’s biodiversity objectives must be a priority for EU institutions and Member States. Their commitment to do so will be reflected in the willingness to adopt strong legislation for nature restoration.