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21st Feb 2024

CAP 'failed to halt biodiversity loss', auditors find

  • 'The CAP has so far been insufficient to counteract declining biodiversity on farmlands, which is a major threat for both farming and the environment' (Photo: Andrew Stawarz)

The EU's flagship Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) has failed to reverse the long-standing decline in biodiversity caused by intensive farming, the European Court of Auditors warned on Friday (5 June), on the occasion of World Environment Day.

"The CAP has so far been insufficient to counteract declining biodiversity on farmlands, which is a major threat for both farming and the environment," said Viorel Stefan, the member of the audit court responsible for the report.

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The European Commission set out in 2011 a strategy to halt biodiversity by 2020, which committed to increasing the contribution of agriculture to maintain biodiversity and the conservation of species as well as habitats affected by the sector.

However, the auditors criticised the fact that intensive farming remains the main cause of biodiversity-loss, due to the increased use of chemicals and machinery in more open and homogeneous landscapes, and lack of quantified targets in the 2020 Biodiversity Strategy.

The EU auditors also denounced the "poor coordination" between the CAP and the 2020 Biodiversity strategy, which falls short of addressing the decline in genetic biodiversity - which refers to genetic variability within species.

The court stressed previously that losing genetic diversity could reduce the capacity of ecosystems to adapt to an unprecedented situation, such as diseases or to environmental variations.

Some members states like Poland have come up with strategies to protect genetic biodiversity, despite lacking a clear roadmap from Brussels.

'Unreliable' data

The EU planned to spend around eight percent of the budget on biodiversity in 2019 and 2020, which is about €13.5bn per year including €10.3bn from the CAP.

However, the report finds that the way the commission tracks CAP expenditure benefiting biodiversity is actually "unreliable" since it overstates the contribution of some measures to biodiversity.

This is why Ireland and Germany decided not to use the commission's methodology when developing their biodiversity tracking systems, as they consider it inaccurate.

Additionally, EU auditors considered that most CAP funding, which is as direct payment to farmers, has a little positive impact on biodiversity.

"Although some direct payments requirement, notably "greening", have the potential to improve biodiversity, the commission and member states favoured low impact options," the court concluded.

Hope for 2030?

Meanwhile, EU auditors and civil society organisations were more optimistic about the new 2030 Biodiversity Strategy presented by the commission last month together with the Farm to Fork strategy.

EU auditors told a group of reporters on Thursday that there has been an ongoing exchange of information with the commission, since January, to feed the internal debate linked to the recently proposed strategies and 2021-2027 CAP.

"The EU is not on track to meet the 2020 targets to halt biodiversity loss. There has been little progress in four of the six targets of the current strategy and the situation of biodiversity in agricultural ecosystems has worsened since 2010," said Sabien Leemans from WWF Europe.

"The new biodiversity strategy is better because it contains concrete and measurable targets on agriculture, for instance on increasing the area of organic farming - but the upcoming CAP will need to integrate these targets to make sure that this is implemented in members states," she added.

The auditors urged the commission to ensure that member states include measurable commitments to tackle biodiversity loss in their CAP strategic plans - due to be presented in 2021.

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