Author: Boris Erg, Director of the IUCN Regional Office for Eastern Europe and Central Asia
The European Commission has adopted a new EU 2030 Biodiversity Strategy this May, framing it as a “comprehensive, ambitious, long-term plan for protecting nature and reversing the degradation of ecosystems.” Undoubtedly, it comes very timely.
The landmark Global Assessment on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services was published by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) confirming that “nature is declining globally at rates unprecedented in human history — and the rate of species extinctions is accelerating, with grave impacts on people around the world now likely.” Only one year after, the EU has come up with a comprehensive plan for reversing the nature decline in Europe by 2030.
While the pandemic still spreads around the world with all its devastating effects, the strategy reaffirms the role nature should have in paving the way for a sustainable and nature-responsive economic recovery. As stated in the EU 2030 Biodiversity Strategy, it is set to “build our societies’ resilience to future threats such as climate change impacts, forest fires, food insecurity or disease outbreaks.”
While it aims at bringing benefits to people, the climate and the planet by enabling biodiversity recovery by 2030, what matters is that it brings to the table strengthened commitment from the EU as part of international discussions on the global post-2020 biodiversity framework.
The super year for biodiversity – postponed not canceled
Often referred to as a Super year for biodiversity, 2020 was expected to deliver two milestone global events on nature conservation, the IUCN World Conservation Congress and the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD COP 15). Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic took its toll and the events had to be postponed for 2021.
The international community has been preparing to set a new global framework for nature with specific targets to bend the curve of biodiversity loss under the auspices of the CBD and IUCN. Due to the pandemic, the process was slowed down but not halted and is expected to be finalised in 2021 and “set humanity on course for achieving the CBD’s overall vision of “living in harmony with nature” by 2050.”
Diverse groups, including governments, science and research communities, the private sector, and civil society alike, have come together to review the successes and failures of the implementation of the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020, including the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, and prepare an ambitious global biodiversity framework for the post-2020 era. The new EU Biodiversity Strategy, with its ambitious goals for nature conservation in Europe by 2030, represents an important contribution to this discussion.
Protecting the fragile natural resources of our planet
In the next 10 years, the EU commits to enlarge the network of protected areas in the EU, building upon existing Natura 2000 sites and protected areas, to at least 30% of land and seas, with at least 10% of it strictly protected. Recent estimates suggest that only 3% of land and 1% of marine areas in Europe are under strict protection, which is far behind the new target and what is required if we are to curb the tide of current massive biodiversity loss.
It is encouraging to see that the new Strategy includes an ambitious EU Nature Restoration Plan, expanding its focus on the restoration of degraded land, much needed in a heavily fragmented and altered European landscape. For example, 25000 km of rivers should be free-flowing and some 3 billion trees planted by 2030. Furthermore, the goal is to increase organic farming, reduce the use of pesticides by 50% and at the same time reverse the decline of pollinators. According to the IUCN-coordinated European Red List of Bees, these valuable yet often neglected species are under high pressure and extinction threat in all of Europe. Bees are just one of several pollinators, fundamental for food production and our wellbeing.
When it comes to resource mobilisation, the EU has committed to raise at least EUR 20 billion a year “for nature, encouraging businesses, public authorities, cities and local authorities to include biodiversity concerns in their decision-making.” If unlocked, it will represent a strong stimulus for a traditionally under-resourced sector such is nature conservation.
A key element of the European Green Deal
The EU 2030 Biodiversity Strategy was adopted as one of the key elements underpinning the EU Green Deal, next to the Farm to Fork Strategy that aims to make our food production more sustainable. The Green Agenda for the Western Balkans, a regional offshoot aimed at strengthening nature conservation in the Western Balkans and aligning it more strongly with EU nature policy, is seen as one of the main drivers behind enhanced nature policy and conservation action in the region.
IUCN and its members and partners stands ready to support the process of shaping up the Green Agenda for the Western Balkans and placing biodiversity more centrally in the region. Initial consultations have already taken place, involving members of the Biodiversity Task Force for South-Eastern Europe and other key regional partners. Successful priority setting and resource mobilisation stand out as key elements of the future Green Agenda.
Our future is intrinsically linked with and dependant on the state of nature and ecosystem health. If we are to build a sustainable future, our society at large needs to undergo a transformational change. The EU 2030 Biodiversity Strategy is a promising first step toward our common goal of making a more sustainable and resilient society. A question that remains is – will it work? Will the EU Commission and Member States manage to resource for it and hit the mark? For the sake of our own future and the living world that underpins us, we hold our breath that it will.