Article by Rachel Prior, National Assembly for Wales Research Service
The European Commission published its mid-term review of the EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2020 in October 2015. Since then both the Council of Ministers through the Environment Council and the European Parliament have been considering their responses to the Commission’s findings. You can read the mid-term review here: Mid-term review on the EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2020, the Environment Council report here: The Mid-Term Review of the EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2020 - Council conclusions and the European Parliament report here: Report on the mid-term review of the EU Biodiversity Strategy.
What are the aims of the EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2020?
The Strategy aims to halt the loss of biodiversity and the degradation of ecosystems in the EU by 2020. It contains six priority targets, in summary, these are:
- Fully implement the Birds and Habitats Directives
- Maintain and restore ecosystems and their services
- Increase the contribution of agriculture and forestry to biodiversity
- Ensure the sustainable use of fisheries resources
- Combat invasive alien species
- Step-up action to tackle the global biodiversity crisis
What progress is being made towards these aims?
The Commission’s mid-term review assesses progress towards each of the individual targets, as well as towards the headline target. According to the review ‘no significant overall progress’ has been made on the headline target. It goes on to describe in further detail the progress made on each of the six targets:
- Some progress has been made towards the targets for secure/favourable conservation status of species, habitats and birds under the Birds and Habitats Directives, but current rates of improvement are not sufficient to meet the target by 2020.
- Good progress has been made in maintaining and restoring ecosystems and their services, but at an insufficient rate to achieve the target of 15 per cent restored by 2020.
- Agricultural biodiversity showed no significant progress, with 84 per cent of assessed habitats associated with agriculture recorded as having deteriorated, or remaining either unknown or unfavourable in the reporting period. In habitats associated with woodland and forest ecosystems, the figure was 82 per cent.
- Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY) has been achieved in many northern fisheries, though progress is poor in the Mediterranean and Black Sea.
- The new Invasive Alien Species (AIS) Regulation means that the control of invasive alien species is the only target which the Commission described as being “on track to achieve target”.
- Progress towards tackling the global biodiversity crisis was deemed insufficient to meet the target by its deadline, despite the EU being the largest contributor to biodiversity-related aid, and doubling its funding for this between 2006 and 2013.
Council of Ministers response
The Environment Council conclusions on the mid-term review comment on the progress towards each of the targets, as well as noting some issues that affect all the targets. For example, the Council calls for Member States to improve further their implementation of biodiversity conservation strategies and suggests the development of a mechanism to track the funding available for biodiversity work. The Council conclusions reiterate the importance of the Birds and Habitats Directives and point to the role that the Natura 2000 network of protected sites, created by these Directives, plays in improving the conservation status of species and habitats. European Parliament response The European Parliament report is critical of the lack of progress identified in the mid-term review. It expresses ‘serious concern’ over the failure to make good progress towards most of the targets for 2020. It describes the general trend of continuing habitat degradation and associated loss of biodiversity as ‘extremely bleak and worrying’, noting that the review confirms the findings of The European Environment, State and Outlook 2015 Synthesis Report (SOER 15) and State of Nature reports that biodiversity loss is on-going. The report also calls for increased political will towards achieving the goals, stressing the economic and social benefits of biodiversity, as well as highlighting the opinions of EU citizens. It states that eight out of 10 EU citizens feel that the impact of biodiversity loss is significant, and that a recent online consultation about the Birds and Habitats Directives attracted the highest ever number of participants. The report concludes that the wellbeing of nature and the welfare of future generations are inextricably linked, and therefore a more concerted effort is urgently needed in order to halt and reverse the loss of European and global biodiversity.