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Why Europe needs a more ambitious biodiversity agenda

Authors: Gustavo Becerra Jurado, Hans Van Gossum

The IPBES Global Assessment, released in May, estimated that one million animal and plant species are threatened with extinction. Some species, the study said, might disappear within a few decades.

Despite the alarming scale, the EU has not yet fully recognised the disastrous consequences that the scenario would have in the functioning of our ecosystems – not when it comes to political action, at least.

The manifestos of the European parties, released ahead of this year’s European elections, showed woefully inadequate mentions of biodiversity – compared to climate change. With the possible exception of the Greens, none of the parties provided any proposals to addressing biodiversity loss. 

And although the issue is slowly climbing up the EU’s agenda, it is striking that more hasn’t been done given the wealth of policy knowledge available.

Policy brief: Valuing biodiversity and reversing its decline by 2030Halting the loss of biodiversity is – and should remain – an important target of EU policy. This Think 2030 paper provides policy recommendations from leading biodiversity experts.

Building on existing knowledge

There is, luckily, a wealth of positive experience that EU decision makers can build on.

Over the last 15 years, some 13,000 scientific papers have been published on biodiversity loss in the leading conservation science journals – including on how to capitalise on successful conservation practices.

IEEP’s own study from earlier this year identified the factors underpinning conservation success stories in habitats and species that are the focus of the EU nature directives, including the Birds Directive and the Habitats Directive.

The study – the first of its scale in Europe – has reaffirmed existing knowledge and provided a series of lessons for the post-2020 biodiversity strategy, including on the importance of political support in ensuring the coherence andenforcement of environmental policies and legislation. 

Most importantly, each case study in the report demonstrated that success was made possible by often opposing interests coming together around a common passion or concern, and jointly finding the means to turn the tide. 

At the Think 2030 conference, held in Brussels last October, participants argued that the EU will not halt the loss of biodiversity until a commitment to do so receives adequate buy-in from outside the biodiversity sector.

The conference identified six objectives:

  1. Building a social movement to halt biodiversity loss
  2. Stepping up action to implement existing EU policies
  3. Strengthening and reforming EU policy frameworks
  4. Making the EU budget work for biodiversity
  5. Increasing EU action to tackle global biodiversity loss
  6. Supporting EU action through better knowledge and evidence.

Achieving these objectives would require not only a significant step up in commitment, ownership and resources but also a change in the consumption of natural resources that sustain life.

What needs to happen?

There are signs that we are starting to move in the right direction. As seen during the youth climate marches held in more than 100 countries around the world,  more and more young people are becoming aware of environmental issues – and making their voices heard.

Then there is the decision by the Finnish presidency of the EU Council to use the economy of wellbeing as an umbrella theme for its programme on health and social sectors, making links between the natural world and social prosperity. It remains to be seen how much of this ambition is turned into action.

All of these themes were echoed at the recent Alternet conference in Ghent and the IUCN Regional Forumin Rotterdam, attended by IEEP. 

The future Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) global strategic framework is expected to link closely with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at the crucial 15th session of the Conference of the Parties to the CBD, taking place in China in October next year.

It is of paramount importance that biodiversity objectives are aligned with the SDGs and that the synergies between the climate change and biodiversity agendas are made explicit in the Post-2020 EU Biodiversity Strategy.

In 2010, Europe was at the forefront, leading the world into the post-2010 biodiversity era. Will its post-2020 biodiversity strategy be equally exemplary?

Pictured: European bison (Bison bonasus)

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