A stock-taking of progress
In 2011, the EU adopted an ambitious strategy with six targets to halt the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services by 2020. Five years before the target date, and with a mid-term review due in the coming months, Green Week panellists called for a common recognition of the challenges ahead and for coherent policy objectives to protect Europe’s biodiversity.
For Ariel Brunner, Head of EU Policy at NGO BirdLife Europe, progress towards halting biodiversity loss has been slow and uneven: “We are not on track… and if we don’t ramp up efforts, the signs are we’ll miss the targets.” But he was careful to acknowledge the importance of on-going efforts: “Where the Birds and Habitats Directives have been implemented properly, improvements have followed,” he said, noting “spectacular comebacks of some species.” But in many other areas, progress on paper was not yet reflected in better implementation and enforcement on the ground.
Ariel Brunner, Head of EU Policy
at NGO BirdLife Europe
Agriculture and biodiversity
An animated debate on the Common Agricultural Policy illustrated the diversity of views. Where Brunner saw “a lose-lose situation for nature and farmers needing a fundamental discussion,” Liisa Pietola, representing European Farmers’ association COPA-COGECA saw “an area of progress that needs time, financial support and simplified rules to show results.” Farmers are the principal land managers, she said, and they have to protect biodiversity while responding to increasing food demand. “Acknowledging their efforts is an important motivation factor,” she said.
Speaking on behalf of the Commission, François Wakenhut, Head of DG Environment’s Biodiversity Unit, reminded delegates that much would depend on how national and regional authorities use the opportunities for synergies between agriculture and the environment. “The reformed EU farming policy offers ‘a menu of dishes’ to meet the EU biodiversity targets, but will they be consumed?” he asked.
Wakenhut welcomed the move away from the ‘biodiversity versus economic development’ debate, towards what he saw as a search for common solutions. Dirk Finke, Secretary-General of the European Aggregates Association, showed how his sector was working within the legislation to boost biodiversity protection. “The aggregates sector invests huge resources into ecosystem restoration,” he said, “employing scientists to fill in expertise gaps and working in partnership with NGOs against illegal extraction practices.”
Multi-level governance and co-construction
According to Annabelle Jaeger, Member of the Regional Council of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, the Biodiversity Strategy has generated a “favourable dynamic”, boosting cooperation and engagement among farmers, businesses and citizens. She argued for the “co-construction” of policy with input from the regions, to better integrate biodiversity and green infrastructure. This would also ensure a more harmonised approach in public policies on biodiversity and agriculture. Where there were faults, it was perhaps a question of timing: “Biodiversity issues are often addressed too late in the planning process and therefore perceived as a constraint or an obstacle.”
While views differed on the degree of progress towards the targets, panellists recognised the need to find common ground, build trust and work in partnership towards solutions.