Medio ambiente

Living laboratory: research to help halt biodiversity decline


Reversing biodiversity decline has until now proved a tough challenge for the European Union. In strategies going back more than two decades, the EU has stated the goal of putting a stop to the deterioration and loss of Europe’s natural capital, but the biodiversity crisis has not abated. Now, a new push will be made, with a fresh biodiversity strategy promised by March 2020 as part of the European Commission’s Green Deal. Measurable objectives and specific actions to meet those objectives have been promised.

In parallel, work is underway on a new approach to biodiversity research. The Commission proposal for the post-2020 budget foresees that the Horizon Europe programme will spend €100 billion between 2021 and 2027 on promoting scientific excellence and tackling global challenges. Under Horizon Europe, a new biodiversity partnership will be organised. It could help underpin the 2030 biodiversity strategy by identifying the causes of species and ecosystem loss and coming up with durable solutions to arrest the decline.

Horizon Europe is still being planned and few details about the biodiversity partnership have been published, but some core elements are known. The partnership would be titled Rescuing biodiversity to safeguard life on Earth, and would be a Co-funded European Partnership, meaning money for research would come from the European Commission and EU national and regional administrations. The partnership’s overarching goal would be to find ways of stopping species loss linked to human activity.

The partnership would build on current activities that seek to coordinate biodiversity research. In particular, it would continue the work of the BiodivERsA network of biodiversity research funders, which supported projects involving more than 2,200 researchers between 2008 and 2018.

A session at the European Research and Innovation Days, from 24 to 26 September 2019, was devoted to biodiversity and the challenges the future partnership should address. Speaking at the event, Anne Burrill of the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Environment, said biodiversity research priorities should include identification of solutions that provide a “systemic science response,” rather than dealing only with isolated issues. In addition, planetary biodiversity boundaries “and the consequences of going beyond those boundaries” need to be understood, she said. New ways to tackle the drivers of biodiversity loss and effective monitoring systems to measure progress are also needed, Burrill added.

One major issue the partnership could address would be the better linking of scientific evidence with policymaking. Staying within the planetary biodiversity boundary implies major changes to the way society and the economic system are governed. For people to accept such changes, they need to understand the value of the public goods provided by biodiversity. To understand how people might respond to major sustainability-related upheaval in their lives, economic research and research into behaviour and psychology would also need to feature in the biodiversity partnership, speakers at the European Research and Innovation Days said.

The Rescuing biodiversity to safeguard life on Earth partnership thus promises to be a broad umbrella, with much to offer researchers and innovators who can produce answers to the biodiversity crisis and help tackle the blockages that have prevented the EU from meeting its biodiversity goals. Horizon Europe will officially be launched on 1 January 2021 with a biannual work programme (20/21).