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The new strategy to protect nature includes far-reaching habitat protections and restrictions on pesticide use, but activists caution that enforcement is key.
The European Commission has pledged to protect 30% of the EU's land and oceans by 2030 as part of the European Green Deal, in a plan tentatively welcomed by environmental groups who warned that far-reaching ambitions must not only exist " on paper".
The 10-year plan, released Wednesday, includes commitments to cut chemical pesticide use by 50%, plant 3 billion trees by 2030 and reverse the decline in pollinators. Within 30% of protected areas, one-third of the land and sea will be under “strict protection,” meaning that there should be no human intervention in addition to minimal management to keep the area in good condition for wildlife.
Strictly protected areas will include carbon-rich habitats such as old and primary forests, peatlands, wetlands, and grasslands. Currently only 3% of the land and 1% of the marine areas are under strict protection.
The commission aims to raise at least € 20bn (£ 18bn) per year to fund the plan. The money will come from public and private funds at national and EU level. A significant part of the EU climate budget will also be invested in biodiversity, according to the report.
Sabien Leemans, Senior Biodiversity Policy Officer at WWF, said this figure was "probably at the bottom of the scale, but this is the first time they've mentioned a specific figure, so that's good enough."
The 10-year plan to address the global biodiversity crisis is also pushing for a reworking of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which has been accused of driving biodiversity decline through its € 60 billion per year subsidy system. It mainly rewards farmers for the amount of land they have, rather than making environmental improvements.
The report says that 10% of agricultural areas will be transformed into "high diversity landscapes" with the creation of features such as buffer strips, hedges, ponds and fallows. A quarter of agricultural land will be managed organically by 2030.
The agriculture targets are a “game changer,” according to Ariel Brunner, head of policy at BirdLife International's Brussels office, who says the 2010 biodiversity targets for agriculture were extremely weak due to the strength of the lobby. EU agriculture, resulting in a 'lost decade' for wildlife.
“When these new goals are combined, and if they are implemented, which is a big yes, then you are starting to look for healthy agriculture that can provide habitats for farmland birds and butterflies, but also agriculture that really can provide food at the end of the century, "he said.
The new EU strategy comes after decades of catastrophic biodiversity loss, with wildlife populations declining by 60% in the last 40 years as a result of human activities. The Covid-19 pandemic has further highlighted the link between environmental and human health, making the case for ambitious action clearer than ever, the report says.
However, some activists are concerned that the pledges lack details on how these changes would be implemented and enforced.
“It is good to see the ambition to extend protected areas, increase tree cover, reduce pesticide use and bring back species in decline. But there is a great sense of déjà vu when reading this latest strategy because many of the same ambitions have been set, and not fulfilled, by previous plans of nature, "said Paul de Zylva, nature activist at Friends of the Earth . "Europe cannot afford another decade of failure to protect and restore our natural world."
The ambition to ensure that 30% of the EU's land and sea are protected by 2030, compared to 26% of the land and 11% of the seas today, was welcomed, but will only change the game if commitments are being honored, activists said.
Management is extremely poor at Natura 2000 sites, which protect 18% of EU land, Leemans said. “Many of them only exist on paper. We will really need to increase the effective protection of those sites and that is a priority ”.
The report recognized that failure to properly care for protected lands was having "disastrous consequences for biodiversity."
The commission promises to outline legally binding targets for EU member states in 2021 to restore nature reserves, such as grasslands, wetlands, bogs, swamps, swamps, grasslands and forests. Without "a dedicated binding framework in support of the biodiversity strategy" there is a "high risk that the loss of biodiversity will continue," said journalist Virginijus Sinkevičius, EU commissioner for the environment and oceans.
Critics say the European Commission, the EU's top law enforcement officer, has become too timid in taking national governments to court for violating environmental regulations.
On average, the commission takes a country that breaks the law to the ECJ within four months for failing to comply with EU transport rules, while the same process takes 66 months for failing to comply with environmental rules.
“The level of breaking the law and the ignorance of the law is just terrifying,” Brunner said, recounting: “Every day, we have protected sites that become hotels, ski resorts, golf courses, which are being registered. , that they are turning to intensive agriculture and that is what we have to deal with ”.
“The real game changer will be the application. That's the litmus test for all of this: it can set the best goals in the world, but if ultimately people can get away with criminal activity without consequences, then it is not met, ”he added.
For EU officials, the biodiversity plan is the other side of the coin of action to combat the climate emergency. "We cannot stop and reverse the loss of biodiversity without achieving the goals of the Paris agreement and vice versa," said Sinkevičius. “Our relationship with nature has been broken in part because we lost sight of the interconnections, because we act as if our actions have no consequences. This strategy is an opportunity to change that ”.
The new strategy is expected to be presented at the UN Convention on Biodiversity, COP15, in Kunming in 2021. Delegates from 190 countries will exceed global biodiversity targets for the next decade, and the EU is likely to put pressure on other countries to follow suit.
A text drawn up by the UN Convention on Biological Diversity in January that called for a global commitment to protect at least 30% of the planet in the next decade remains in force.