Three challenges for Europe's biodiversity

Humanity is already outside the safe operating space for at least four of the nine planetary boundaries, including biodiversity. In Europe, nature is facing serious decline, with threatened ecosystems and terrestrial and marine species and habitats at poor conservation status. The next European Commission will have to tackle what the previous did not manage to push forward completely: ensure Europe delivers on its biodiversity global commitments through binding EU policy instruments with concrete financial support.  

Europe needs to double down on protecting terrestrial and marine areas: this is the main call to action stemming from the European Environment Agency’s monitoring report of the progress towards the 8th Environment Action Programme’s objectives. Although we have seen some advancement in biodiversity conservation and restoration, Europe needs to move faster if we want to reach the 2030 targets and hope to reverse biodiversity decline, conserve ecosystems and manage the socio-economic impacts of biodiversity decline. 

The EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030, adopted at the beginning of this Commission’s mandate, had the ambition to strengthen biodiversity restoration and protection in natural areas. Although some progress was made, for instance with the legislative proposal on soil and forest monitoring and the revision of the initiative on pollinators, several measures did not go through or did not even reach the proposal stage. The obstacle seemed to be the pathway towards greening agriculture, as proven by the withdrawal of the proposal on pesticide reduction and the sustainable food system framework from the Commission’s work programme.   

The Nature Restoration Law has crystallised political backlash against the EU Green Deal ahead of EU elections. The final adoption of the law is still pending, but a key lesson learned, regardless of political tensions, is that major transitions require prioritising the necessary budget lines.  

Looking ahead, three key challenges stand in front of the next European Commission: the future Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform; the management of natural resources; and the delivery on global commitments. Failure to tackle these will determine whether Europe will hit the point of no return on biodiversity. 

How will the future CAP reform advance biodiversity protection?  

The previous CAP reform brought a major paradigm shift ‘greening’ agricultural policy, with enhanced conditionalities and eco-schemes incentivising sustainable farming practices including ones enhancing biodiversity like crop-rotation, permanent grasslands and buffer strips share. However, the latest adoption of the targeted revision of CAP ‘conditionalities’ has watered down several environmental “musts”. Although this was an emergency measure to respond to the pan-European agricultural upheaval and ease challenges faced by the primary production sector, the question remains whether this step back should be seen as a bigger trend for agricultural policy for the coming years. The concerns about increasing red tape for farmers and the watering down of key regulatory requirements for the agriculture sector’s contribution to the climate and environment objectives, from pesticides to emissions reduction, are exacerbating this question. 

However, questions spanning from recent developments were not focusing on why we need sustainability ambitions on the ground to improve farming practices and protect ecosystems, but rather on how the EU will concretely empower farmers to make the transition happen. Looking ahead, how will the next EU Commission square the circle and what concrete financial support will it plan? Incoming policy makers will be tasked to play a delicate balancing act between short and long-term economic relief to allow for long-term sustainability goals.

We need to double down on nature 

Looking ahead, Europe cannot ignore biodiversity as a core economic parameter of its competitiveness. The majority of European industry relies on natural resources to achieve decarbonisation and maintain Europe’s innovation across sectors. The major transformations of the digital and green economy will require more natural resources, but also access to land and water.  The first-ever European Climate Risk Assessment and the EU climate resilience strategy both stress the interconnection between biodiversity loss and impact on the economy, especially food security and sectors highly depend on nature. Decoupling resource consumption from economic growth and shifting to sustainable resource management – as part of the efforts to reinforce Europe’s strategic autonomy and competitiveness and decarbonisation efforts – appear inevitable.  

The next EU Commission will have to build on this legacy to define clear pathways for European action. The level of ambition to act in a coordinated way will heavily depend on the result of the EU elections. While criteria linked to biodiversity and resource use are for example included in the Ecodesign Regulation, it won’t be sufficient to reverse the trends of nature degradation across Europe and beyond.  

Global commitments  

Whether the Nature Restoration Law is adopted or not leads to a bigger discussion about policy action in the area of biodiversity. We can argue that a potential non-adoption of the Nature Restoration Law would not as such signal a pause in biodiversity policy commitment from the European Union for an important reason: Europe’s been a driving force in reaching a global agreement with the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework. Even though non-binding, we know that global commitment can lead to major transformation, such as the Paris agreement. Incoming policy makers will have to find the right balance between bringing ambition in nature restoration and biodiversity protection measures while providing sufficient funding for a realistic implementation pathway.  

  • Coline Lavorel

    With 15 years of experience in sustainability, strategy, advocacy and communications, Coline joined FleishmanHillard in 2022 as Vice President and Associate Director to lead the Environment and Chemicals team. She specializes in circular economy and environment policies, advising clients advocacy campaigns and government relations practice....

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  • Meropi Klogka

    Meropi Klogka supports clients in Climate and Sustainability policies, while also focusing on Environmental and Chemical issues. Meropi has gained experience in the European Public Affairs field through her internship at a European Government Affairs Law firm in Brussels. She also worked as an intern...

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