A new deal for a greener management of biodiversity? The place of ecosystems protection in the European Green Deal

A new deal for a greener management of biodiversity? The place of ecosystems protection in the European Green Deal

The biodiversity strategy for 2030, presented by the European Commission as part of the European Green Deal, strives to revert the current biodiversity loss facing the EU and restore degraded ecosystems. Unfortunately, it does not move away from a growth-oriented system, but if it is properly put into legislations and policies and implemented effectively it could hold some of its promises.

In December 2019, the European Commission (EC) presented the European Green Deal (EGD), a “new growth strategy[1] consisting of a broad and ambitious roadmap aiming to “transform the EU into a fair and prosperous society, with a modern, resource-efficient and competitive economy[2]. One of its priorities is to revert the current biodiversity loss that the EU is facing, and therefore the Commission also presented in March 2020 a Biodiversity Strategy for 2030.  

A necessary and reasonably promising strategy for 2030

In this new strategy, the Commission underlines that biodiversity loss is primarily influenced by land and sea use, direct exploitation of natural resources and climate change. The link established between biodiversity protection and climate change is fundamental and it is at the heart of the propositions of the EGD, which means to tackle both issues. That is vital for the biodiversity of the Mediterranean basin and therefore of our Maltese ecosystem [3]. Indeed, according to Guoit and Cramer [4], “Only a 1.5°C warming scenario permits ecosystems [in the Mediterranean basin] to remain within the Holocene variability”. The Holocene is understood as the period running from the Palaeolithic Ice Age to the present day. It is characterized by a general stability in climate variations. The authors warn that should the Mediterranean basin be subjected to a more important rise in temperatures, its ecosystem would not survive as we know it. Therefore, a common fight against climate change and the protection of biodiversity is especially crucial in this part of Europe. Malta faces a problematic water situation for agriculture, as it has very limited water resources, and increases in average temperature, multiplication of droughts and changes to rainfall patterns as a result of climate change will probably exacerbate that situation even more [5].

The new biodiversity strategy is focussed on two main aspects, structured around the aim of ensuring that “by 2050 ecosystems are restored, resilient, and adequately protected.”. Firstly, the strategy aims at extending in Europe protected areas from 26% to at least 30% of land, and from 11% to 30% of seas. It also plans on setting legally binding nature-restoration targets in 2021 to protect EU forests. Secondly, the strategy includes a plan to restore degraded ecosystems across Europe, by transitioning to sustainable practices [6] and enforcing national-level implementation of restoration policies. The commission therefore promotes agroecology and environmental farming, and aims to ensure that 25% of European agricultural land be organically farmed by 2030. The biodiversity strategy works hand in hand with the Farm to Fork Strategy, which plans to reduce by 50% the use of chemical pesticides by 2030. These engagements on sustainable farming need to be efficiently put in place, but they are already very encouraging as it is the first time that such clear announcements are made about sustainable food.

The globally ambitious nature of this new biodiversity strategy is necessary to face the 15th Conference of the Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) taking place in China in 2021. This UN-level conference must see the EU and its Member States taking the lead and putting forth their ambitious plans so that the proper commitments are taken at a wider level.

A risk of failure

But what proves that this strategy will succeed where the past international biodiversity targets failed? In 2001, the EU summit in Sweden had adopted biodiversity targets, which aimed to halt biodiversity loss by 2010. Recognizing that this objective had not been reached the EU had adopted targets to stop biodiversity loss by 2020.  This strategy also failed because of its ambiguous targets, lack of high-level political commitment and national implementation, enforcement and accountability.

This new Strategy presented by the EC will be put in place in 2021, after having been endorsed by both the European Parliament and Member States. The EC’s communication promotes the protection of biodiversity but we are still waiting for it to be put into actual policies, legislations and instruments that will lead to concrete actions. Indeed, past propositions have been known to be watered down by lobbies (particularly the farming lobbies), especially regarding the use of pesticides, which faces a big economic challenge for the stakeholders involved.  For this strategy to be more efficient than the previous ones, it will then call for implementation at a national level.  To guarantee that, the Commission plans on putting in place a framework that will allow for monitoring and review mechanisms to help enforce EU legislation.

Whatever is adopted will also need to be enforced by the EU, and sanctions must be taken against the Member States who don’t apply properly the new strategy. Indeed, on average, a law-breaking country regarding EU’s transport rules will be taken to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) within four months, while the same process regarding environmental norms takes 66 months (more than 5 years) [7].

The issues of a growth-oriented strategy

Figure 1 – By Doughnut Economics – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=75695171

Overall, being one of the main pillars of the EGD, this strategy shows the same fault of staying focussed on growth, which, even if greener, will continue harming European – and worldwide – biodiversity. The EC talks about restoring ecosystems, a goal which cannot be achieved without efficiently removing the pressure on said ecosystems, by transitioning to a post-growth economy.

Since we live in a finite world with limited resources, we must move away from an infinite growth model, using up more resources than the earth has.

For an interesting read, you can also see a development of that idea in Kate Raworth’s Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist. Her doughnut model explains very well that to live in a safe and just space, humanity must ensure a solid social foundation (in terms of housing, food, equality, peace, justice etc) while not outgrowing Earth’s ecological ceiling.

To make sure we live inside the doughnut, the EU needs to move away from its growth system to allow for a reduction of the resource footprints. That also means rejecting the financialization of nature. As the business case factsheet [8] shows, the commission primarily justifies the proposed measures by their economic and business advantages.  Moving away from such a system would also mean a revision of the current Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which subsidies farmers according to the amount of land they have and has been accused of driving biodiversity decline [9]. The EC intents to review the CAP and make sure that the National Strategic Plans of the CAP make room for implementation of the Biodiversity Strategy.

Implementing the Biodiversity Strategy in Malta

In Malta the Ministry for the Environment, Climate Change and Planning, as part of the CBD, is currently drawing up a new National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (NBSAP) to 2030, building on the one put in place for 2012-2020. The measures planned by EU’s biodiversity plans are relevant to some Maltese issues, and will have to be implemented here in Malta. Indeed, the Biodiversity Strategy aims to address the problem of invasive alien species by regulation, to reduce pollution and focus on greening urban spaces, all of which are issues here in Malta. Furthermore, one of the main issues facing agriculture and ecosystem preservation in Malta is the water shortage, and the soils and water sources are becoming more saline because of over abstraction. Therefore, the government should also put forwards water reuse and water efficiency measures. That would implement one of the goals of the EU’s strategy, which aims to “protect soil fertility, reduce soil erosion and increase soil organic matter.”

An essential aspect in ensuring the health of European ecosystems is maintaining a healthy flock of pollinators. The EC recognizes in its business case factsheet that more than 75% of global food crop types rely on animal pollination. That means it is fundamental to put forth and implement sustainable farming, that doesn’t rely on pesticides, especially here in Malta.  In 2013, an IUCN factsheet on Maltese biodiversity identified the most significant threats to species in Malta as being “habitat loss, fragmentation and degradation caused by agriculture expansion and intensification […], pollution caused by agricultural and forestry effluents, farming and ranching as a result of agricultural expansion and intensification, urbanization and tourism[10]. To protect biodiversity and the farmers, a healthy biodiversity strategy in Malta and in Europe should reject the financialization of nature, move away from “techno-fixes” (ie. Solutions such as GMO’s) and pesticides, and strengthen the role of local farming communities. Furthermore, in Malta we are quickly losing land to soil capping and urbanisation, due to the construction of road and buildings. Urbanisation is also a very important factor for biodiversity loss, as it destroys the habitats of essential species like pollinators. Therefore, a proper plan to protect nature from over urbanisation and ensure the survival of Maltese biodiversity is necessary.

Altogether, all of these strategies – on a national, EU and UN level – are absolutely essential when one considers that in the past 40 years in Europe, wildlife populations have fallen on average by nearly 60% as a result of human activities[11]. The propositions made by the EC fit in an overly growth-oriented system and lack solutions for a certain number of issues, but they are promising. They need to be properly implemented and enforced both by the EU and the Member States. That is why we collectively need to act for a better world, to make sure we manage to live in the doughnut.

To protect biodiversity and specifically save the bees, Friends of the Earth Malta, along with more than a hundred organisations over the EU, is currently promoting a European’s Citizens Initiative, that you can sign here: www.foemalta.org/beesaver. By taking just a few minutes of your time to sign this petition, you can help us stop the extinction of biodiversity and say no to a dead-end system! By signing this petition and sharing it to your friends and family, you can help us reach the European Commission, who will have to consider our demands:

  1. By 2030 the use of synthetic pesticides shall be gradually reduced by 80 percent in EU agriculture. By 2035, agriculture in the entire Union shall be working without synthetic pesticides.
  2. Habitats shall be restored and agricultural areas shall become a vector of biodiversity recovery.
  3. Farmers must be supported in the necessary transition towards agroecology. Small, diverse and sustainable farms shall be favoured, organic farming expanded, and research into pesticide-free and GMO-free agriculture will be supported.

Furthermore, if you sign before the 8th of December, you might also be the lucky winner of our holiday give-away, and get a tote bag containing a present of your choice (a bee hotel, a bottle of mead or a jar of honey)!

If you want to help make sure we achieve all these promising measures, you can join our motivated team of volunteers, and together, we will make sure that our leaders and our communities are up to the task!

Written by Lucie Rofé, a young member of Friends of the Earth Malta and a Policy and Project Support Intern.

[1] UVD https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/e%20n/ip_19_6691

[2] https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?qid=1596443911913&uri=CELEX:52019DC0640#document2

[3] The first step towards climate neutrality is being taken as the European Climate Law was presented in March 2020.

[4] Guiot, J. and W. Cramer, 2016. Climate change: The 2015 Paris Agreement thresholds and Mediterranean basin ecosystems

[5]  Factsheet on 2014-2020 Rural Development Programme for Malta “Water supply and diffuse water pollution from agriculture are critical issues for Malta, both currently and for the future, particularly in the context of anticipated climate change and demographic pressures and challenges. The state of Malta’s water resources is among the most stressed in the world.”

[6] Including “precision agriculture, organic farming, agro-ecology, agro-forestry, low-intensive permanent grassland, and stricter animal welfare standards.”

[7] https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/may/20/eu-pledges-20bn-a-year-on-boosting-biodiversity-aoe

[8] https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/fs_20_907

[9] https://www.birdlife.org/europe-and-central-asia/open-letter-reform-cap

[10] https://www.iucn.org/sites/dev/files/content/documents/malta_s_biodiversity_at_risk_fact_sheet_may_2013.pdf

[11] https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-37775622

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