There are currently one million species being threatened with extinction. This is a reflection of our fragile biodiversity, which is the variety of all living things on our planet. Biodiversity has been declining at an alarming rate in recent years, mainly due to human activities, such as land use changes, pollution, and climate change. The European Parliament has proposed a strategic initiative to protect endangered plants and animals on the continent.
A UN report published in 2019 warned that one million species are on the path to extinction within the next few decades. Some scientists believe that we are in the middle of the sixth mass extinction event in Earth’s history. Between 60% and 95% of all species were wiped out in earlier known mass extinctions. It takes millions of years for the global ecosystem to recover from such an event.
Living organisms interact within dynamic ecosystems, and the disappearance of one species can have a far-reaching impact on the food chain. It is impossible to know exactly what the consequences of mass extinctions would be for humans, but research shows that it is the diversity of nature which allows us to thrive.
There are currently animal welfare and protection laws in place in the EU, which date back to the 1970s. They set standards for farm animals, veterinary products, zoos and scientific tests. However, the alarming decline in Europe’s biodiversity has proven that other measures need to be taken.
In January, Parliament called for an ambitious EU 2030 Biodiversity Strategy to address the main drivers of biodiversity loss, and set legally binding targets. These include the conservation of at least 30% of natural areas where 10% of the long-term budget is devoted to biodiversity.
The EU’s 2020 Biodiversity Strategy
EU efforts to improve biodiversity are ongoing under the 2020 Biodiversity Strategy, which was introduced in 2010.
- The Birds Directive aims to protect all 500 wild bird species within the EU. These birds often migrate across borders in the winter seasons and can only be protected through transnational cooperation.
Their natural habitats have been reduced due to urban sprawl and transport networks. Intensive agriculture, forestry, fisheries, and the use of pesticides have diminished their food supplies. To protect the populations of various birds, hunting needs to be regulated.
The 2009 Directive therefore places great emphasis on the protection of habitats for endangered and migratory species. It establishes a network of Special Protection Areas (SPAs), including all the most suitable territories for these species.
- The Habitats Directive ensures the conservation of a wide range of rare, threatened, or endemic animal and plant species, including some 200 rare and characteristic habitat types. Conservation of natural habitats aims to promote the maintenance of biodiversity, taking account of economic, social, cultural, and regional requirements.
- Natura 2000 is the largest network of protected areas in the world, which covers more than 18% of the EU land area. It includes core breeding and resting sites for rare and threatened species, and rare natural habitat types.
Between 2008 and 2018, the marine Natura 2000 network grew more than fourfold to cover 360,000 km2. Many bird species have recorded increases in population and the status of many other species and habitats have significantly improved.
- The EU Pollinator’s Initiative aims to address the decline of pollinators in the EU. This is an alarming global issue that threatens many plants and fauna. The Pollinator’s Initiative contributes to global conservation efforts by focusing on improving knowledge of the decline, tackling the causes, and raising awareness.
- Additionally, the European Life programme, with a budget of €3.4 billion, brought back the Iberian Lynx and the Bulgarian lesser kestrel from near extinction, among other successes.
According to the midterm assessment, the attempts to protect species and habitats, maintain and restore ecosystems, and make seas healthier are indeed making progress. However, these attempts have to be speeded up as the progress being made is not enough to preserve the futures of millions of species.
The objective to combat the invasion of alien species was well on track. Unfortunately, there was little contribution from the agriculture and forestry sectors. Degradation of habitat, pollution, and climate change have been persistent threats over the last few decades. Many are on the increase, requiring a much greater effort.
The EU’s 2030 Biodiversity Strategy
In response to this assessment, and as part of the Green Deal, the European Commission presented the new 2030 strategy in May 2020.
Pascal Canfin, chair of Parliament’s Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee, welcomed the commitment to cut pesticide use by 50%, and for 25% of farm products to be organic by 2030. He agreed that a 30% conservation target was necessary, but said the only way these strategies can be properly implemented is if they are transformed into EU law.
The Commission launched the 2030 Biodiversity Strategy, to go hand in hand with the Farm to Fork Strategy. This strategy aims to create a focus on an EU-wide network of protected areas on land and at sea. It also commits to restoring degraded systems, enabling change by making the measures workable and supported by laws. It takes the lead in tackling the problem of declining biodiversity on a global level.
The new strategy, outlining the EU’s ambitions for the post-2020 global biodiversity framework, was due to be adopted at the 15th UN Convention on Biological Diversity in October 2020 in China, which has been postponed for the time being.