What BAE and the EU Biodiversity Strategy are about
Updated: Sep 22, 2020
Biodiversity loss and the climate crisis are affecting the world as we know it, and will continue to have a calamitous impact in the future. To counter its effects, humanity needs to reconsider its relationship with nature and look for new perspectives that can help us achieve a sustainable and just world. The EU Green Deal and its Biodiversity Strategy provide an opportunity to do so, but might already have come too late, and are arguably too little to top it off. Biodiversity Action Europe (or BAE, for ‘baby’, because we love nature and all... get it?) is calling the EU to action, and you can help us in doing so. We’ll provide regular blog posts on the EU's 2030 biodiversity strategy and our take on it, and would be happy to hear your thoughts, comments and ideas about it. You can also sign our BAE Call for Action which guides our current advocacy campaign at the EU.
Please bear with us…
Most of us have heard about the reports of continued biodiversity loss; unsustainable natural resource extraction; and continued emissions from fossil fuels altering the world’s climate: One million species currently face extinction, most in the coming decades already; as global land and ocean temperature continue to increase, life on Earth (including humankind) is and will be forced to adapt. Only recently, a study showed the shrinking Greenland ice sheet has passed the ‘point of no return’. The resulting sea level rise may mean millions of people will be forcibly displaced. And so on and so on… I assume it’s as boring reading these numbers as it is writing them down, because with no real change in sight, a collective numbness seems to have crept in. Faced with a systemic issue of such magnitude, which most people are sick of hearing about, it's normal to be intimidated by the idea that we might need to contribute to finding a solution and to hope that someone else will offer us one.
The lack of coherent and credible leadership across the world to address what is nothing less than a predictable global crisis, is truly worrying. As young Europeans, we sometimes feel like passengers on a bus, heading into a busy crossroads, with a driver refusing to use the breaks, arguing we should just tell everybody to get out of the way, or maybe quickly build a bridge or a tunnel so we can avoid the crash by the time we speed past the traffic lights, sometimes even denying the presence of the crossroads altogether, then blaming the passengers for not wearing extra seat belts, or simply believing we’ll magically wiggle our way through without casualties, assuming there are no other obstacles ahead. As long as we get ‘there’ in time. Could anyone remind us where exactly we’re heading please?
The good news is that the release of the EU Green Deal under the European Commission represents an opportunity to change things up. This commitment with ambitious environmental and climate targets on a continental level, and reaching out to the world, is the first of its kind in many regards. It truly is a game-changer, if… it materialises correctly. History has already left a trail of recycled promises and rebranded objectives, with rarely any acceptable results to back them up. We cannot accept another failure.
The EU released the Biodiversity strategy at the end of May, as part of the guiding initiatives under the EU Green Deal (next to strategic documents such as Farm 2 Fork and the Circular economy action plan). The Strategy shows acknowledgement of the importance of biodiversity (for our well-being, health, resilience, food systems, climate, economy …) and the hard scientific evidence of the main threats to biodiversity across the globe. It specifically focuses on protecting and restoring nature in the EU; enabling transformative change; and contributing to an ambitious global biodiversity agenda, all of which should contribute to setting ‘EU biodiversity on a path to recovery by 2030’. A case for nature as a business and natural capital investment is also made, with much welcomed acknowledgements of the role of nature and its services to the resilience of our economies (as also mentioned in our Call for Action). All of the above are suggested to additionally contribute to the EU’s Covid recovery plan and future pandemic prevention.
Too green to be true…
The level of ambition of this biodiversity strategy is great, but there are a few side-notes to be made.
Firstly, we’d almost forget about the EU’s previous biodiversity strategy (2011-2020)! The 2015 mid-term review of this strategy showed the EU was on track to reach just one out of six of its predefined targets, and showed no significant progress towards its headline target of ‘Halting the loss of biodiversity and the degradation of ecosystem services in the EU by 2020’. Let us repeat that, there was no significant progress. How many times does history need to repeat itself until someone is actually held accountable for the benefit of the lucky few? How and why will the new suggested accountability mechanisms under the 2030 strategy actually succeed in reaching the set targets?
Furthermore, the EU’s recovery plan from COVID-19 is supported by a new financing instrument of 750 billion EUR and a reinforced long-term budget (the so-called ‘Multi-Annual Financial Framework’). The current pandemic and socio-economic consequences are a vital lesson on how the current use of natural resources and interaction with biodiversity risks undermining our quality of life. Despite all this, environmental NGOs argue the EU Council should have done a better job at making sure the recovery plan (still to be validated by the EU Parliament) fully supports sustainable and climate-neutral activities and avoids supporting polluting ones, by installing strong enforcement mechanisms for example. Now ‘the compromise thrashed out at the European Council meeting increases the already considerable risk that environmental issues will be side-lined’.
The EU Biodiversity Strategy rightfully uses biodiversity’s importance to our economies as one of the main reasons to preserve it. But, this narrative also reflects the values our economy continuously inflicts on society. Competition, growth, production and consumption (considered indicators of human wellbeing) seem non-negotiable - the Green Deal is above all a ‘growth strategy’. The system that holds these processes in place is however continuously criticised for eroding democracy, increasing global and local inequalities, and locking the world in a climate and environmental crisis for the sake of continued GDP growth at the benefit of the lucky few. It seems we’re still fighting a disease with all sorts of therapies, without wanting to change the behaviour that is causing the illness in the first place.
Additionally, the EU-Merocosur trade deal (also coined the ‘cars for beef deal’), signed by the European Commission after the release of the biodiversity strategy, has been widely slammed for lacking a sensible environmental and social approach, contributing to continued destruction of the Amazon rainforest while disadvantaging EU farmers. Luckily, Germany and France seem unlikely to ratify the deal. Nevertheless, the reasoning used to create such deals are why we are facing the current biodiversity crisis, why people across the world are baffled at the lack of responsibility politicians are taking, and why the EU 2030 Biodiversity Strategy could once again be too little too late.
Looking out for our BAE together
Amidst the relief for the release of the EU Green Deal, a first high-level and content-wide approach that prioritises climate and environment (and growth, of course!), a different story is thus shaping up as well. The economic system of over-exploitation that is the root cause of the global environmental and climate crisis (and potentially at that of the current pandemic), still isn’t being fundamentally questioned. The decade-long calls for addressing climate change and biodiversity loss are still sidelined for more ‘bankable’ ideas. Priorities are skewed, even when real efforts are made for the good of everyone. With the proposed transformational change not really on the agenda, we question the credibility of the EU Green Deal as a whole. Rather than opposing outdated ideas and focusing on putting out fires (you can take that literally), it is time for all of us to constructively engage with science and society and build a future where people live in harmony with nature.
Written by one of our BAE baes