21st Jan 2019

EU has second try at biodiversity strategy

The European Commission has outlined a fresh blueprint to halt biodiversity loss in the EU over the next ten years, after a similar plan for the previous decade failed.

Experts warn that continued ecosystem degradation and biodiversity loss will entail huge costs for society in the future, as decimated forests no longer provide clean air and water, for example.

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At a meeting in Nagoya, Japan, last October, the EU signed up to a list of international commitments on halting the rapid decline of the globe's plant and animal species, estimated to be occurring at up to 1,000 times the natural rate due to human activities.

Presenting the new EU strategy to halt the region's downward slide and meet its international commitments in Brussels on Tuesday (3 May), EU environment commissioner Janez Potocnik used Europe's ongoing debt crisis as an analogy.

"We are part of biodiversity, but we also depend on it for our food, for fresh water and clean air, and for a stable climate," he told journalists.

"It's our natural capital that we are spending too fast – and we all know what happens when we borrow beyond our means. We should all be aware of the severity of this situation and our past failures to address the problem."

The strategy features six main priority targets, including the full implementation of all existing EU nature protection legislation and the necessary financing of the EU's Natura network of nature reserves.

More must also be done to tackle invasive species, non-native plants and animals introduced into the EU without their natural predators to keep them in check. They are a fast-growing contributor to biodiversity loss and the cause of roughly €12.5 billion of a damage each year, says the commission.

"This has nothing to do with martians coming to Earth," joked Potocnik, instead pointing to the example of the invasive amazonian water hyacinth, which has caused significant losses to farmers in Portugal and Spain.

Improving the bloc's agriculture, forestry and fisheries polices are also highlighted as necessary if Europe is to halt the decline of valuable species such as bees, vital pollinators of many commercial crops.

Potocnik said he supported the commission's recent communication on reforming the common agricultural policy, but insisted that future farms payments must be linked to the mandatory protection of public goods such as clean rivers, rather than an additional option for top-up payments.

Green groups welcomed the strategy's publication, but criticised what they perceived as a lack of ambition.

"Agriculture and forestry are the biggest land users in Europe ... Without clear and measurable targets to ensure these areas are sustainable, species depletion will continue," said Friedrich Wulf, biodiversity campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe.

The EU farmers' union, Copa-Cogeca, has repeatedly campaigned against greater environment obligations however.

The biodiversity issue is expected to be among the topics on the agenda of a meeting of EU environment ministers this June.

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