Biodiversity is the missing piece in the EU complex strategies puzzle, points out the EESC

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The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) has adopted the opinion 2030 Biodiversity Strategy  during its September Plenary session, following the European Commission's communication on the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 - Bringing nature back into our lives.

Since 1992, the EU is trying to implement biodiversity strategies with no significant results. This is due mainly to poor implementation of the legal framework at national level, and to insufficient funding for the necessary measures.

As a renewed effort, the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) recognises the Commission's commitment to develop a Biodiversity Strategy for 2030, as one of the paths towards the EU Green Deal and the global biodiversity framework proposed by the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD COP 15), planned for 2021 in China.

On 30 September, at UN Biodiversity Summit, the EU sat at the table with world leaders, again committing to reverse nature loss by 2030.

However, one cannot seriously talk about the Biodiversity strategy, without putting the Green Deal, the European Climate Law, the Farm to Fork strategy, and the CAP reform in tune, thus addressing the main drivers of biodiversity loss (changes in land and sea use, overexploitation, climate change, pollution and invasive alien species).

Between 1860 and 2020 the world's population grew from 1.4 billion to 7.6 billion. There has been a massive increase in people's needs. We have been asking more and more of the planet that hosts us, extensively disrupting the rhythms of biodiversity. Today, owing primarily to the sensitivity of the European Union and the Green Deal promoted by the Commission, there is a commitment to reverse this trend and salvage new areas for restoring biodiversity, something that is vital if we are to conserve ecosystems. We are bearing witness to a process stemming from a revival in cultural sensitivity, backed up by EU initiatives. The aim is to introduce actions that benefit everyone, flanked by compensatory measures to ensure that no one is penalised, stressed EESC rapporteur Antonello Pezzini.

How to tackle the problem

In the EESC's view, this strategy is the way forward in putting Europe's biodiversity at the heart of the post-COVID-19 recovery for the benefit of people, the climate and the planet, bringing nature back into our lives.

The EU therefore needs to significantly increase the protection of the remaining natural resources, through awareness raising and communication campaigns targeting society and in particular young people, highlighting the benefits of protection measures. The EESC considers it necessary to increase the size of protected areas, in particular strictly protected areas, to restore habitats and combat species decline, limiting the impact on agriculture and forestry as far as possible, although this in no way will be sufficient to halt the decline in biodiversity.

The Commission's strategy proposes to transform at least 30 % of Europe’s lands and seas into effectively managed protected areas, with 10 % of them strictly protected (with non-intervention management).

It also sets out that at least 10% of agricultural area shall consist of high-diversity landscape features (buffer strips, hedges, terrace walls, non-productive trees, ponds…), but the EESC notes that this is not reflected whatsoever in the current CAP reform proposal.

The strategy also talks about unlocking EUR 20 billion a year, however, without much specifying how this amount is calculated, or how such a budget should be covered.

Neither the European Recovery Plan nor the new MFF (EU's new financial long term plan for the 2021-2027 period) contain any sign of full, effective, consistent integration of biodiversity. The EESC considers therefore this to be a worrying indication that there are – yet again – significant discrepancies between words and actions.

The EESC regrets to say that so far none of the previous promises to halt biodiversity loss has been honoured. The new strategy contains good approaches, but they do not seem to be reflected in real politics: the financial resources that are needed are not being reflected in the MFF and the CAP reform proposals have not been adjusted accordingly either, emphasised EESC co-rapporteur Lutz Ribbe.

The EESC also stresses that farmers and forest owners cannot be expected to bear the cost of protecting biodiversity. Rather, providing this "public good and value" should become a useful source of income for them.

The EESC therefore, as do the European Court of Auditors, has also expressed clear support for a separate EU funding budget line, independent from the agricultural budget.

The "status quo" of biodiversity loss

The indicators are now so bad that, according to many scientists, the Earth's sixth mass extinction has already begun with an almost incalculable number of species being wiped out in an extremely short time. Yet, this one is very different, not caused by any natural catastrophe or other natural cause, but by a single, new factor – human interference.

Since 1970, the number of animals on land has fallen by 40%. Marine animal populations have also fallen by 40%. About a quarter of the world’s coral reefs have already been damaged beyond repair.

Almost a quarter of wild animal and plant species are currently at risk of extinction, according to the 2019 IUCN Red List ("Red List of threatened Species", produced by the International Union for Conservation of Nature).

Insects and pollinators are also in very rapid decline (some populations have already declined by 75% in some places of the world in only a few years) and some ecosystems have deteriorated to such an extent that they are no longer able to fully provide their precious services to the planet.

If the problem of biodiversity loss is not seriously dealt with, humanity will face the permanent degradation of this precious resource. Nature, through its ecological and evolutionary processes, sustains the quality of the air, fresh water and soils on which humanity depends, regulates the climate, provides pollination and pest control and reduces the impact of natural hazards ("2019 Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services global assessment report").

On the road to the next meeting of the Convention on Biological Diversity in China in 2021, much more must be done to safeguard global biodiversity. The shape of the new global deal for nature is on the hands of world's leaders and their political will to change the course of history. It is now time for Europe to assume its role of leadership, and convince the others that the strategies adopted are worth being followed.

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