COVID-19: Making the case for biodiversity

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In line with the European Green Deal, the European Commission adopted the new EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 and manifested its ambition to protect and restore biodiversity and well-functioning eco-systems in Europe and world-wide. The strategy is an urgent call for action that aspires to set Europe’s biodiversity on a path to recovery by 2030. It also represents the commitments of the EU for the new global framework for post-2020 under the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity. 

Humanity is part of nature and fully depends on it for survival, starting from food, clean air and fresh water. But nature is in a state of crisis. In the last four decades, global wildlife populations fell by 60% as a result of human activities and almost three quarters of the Earth’s surface has been altered. Commissioner for the Environment, Oceans and Fisheries Virginijus Sinkevičius said: 'Nature is vital for our physical and mental wellbeing, it filters our air and water, it regulates the climate and it pollinates our crops. But we are acting as if it didn't matter, and losing it at an unprecedented rate… The EU's aim is to protect and restore nature, to contribute to economic recovery from the current crisis, and to lead the way for an ambitious global framework to protect biodiversity around the planet.'

The new biodiversity strategy addresses the five main drivers for the loss of biodiversity and the disappearance of nature: changes in land and sea use, over exploitation of natural resources, climate change, pollution and alien species. The Commission also underlines that the risk of emergence and spread of infectious diseases increases as nature is destroyed. Protecting and restoring biodiversity and well-functioning eco-systems is therefore key to boost the resilience of society towards future diseases. 

The European Commission also makes the case for biodiversity and nature as important economic factors with over half of global GDP depending on ecosystems services in particular in the construction, agriculture and food and drinks sectors. It also points at direct economic benefits for example in the insurance industry where protecting coastal wetlands can save billions of Euros through reducing flood damage losses. 

A central element of the European recovery plan

The biodiversity strategy is also a central element of the EU's recovery plan and provides immediate business and investment opportunities for restoring the EU's economy following the Covid19 crisis. It also aims to make biodiversity considerations an integral part of EU's overall economic growth strategy. The strategy proposes to, among others, establish binding targets to restore damaged ecosystems and rivers, improve the health of EU protected habitats and species, bring back pollinators to agricultural land, reduce pollution, green our cities, enhance organic farming and other biodiversity-friendly farming practices, and improve the health of European forests.

The strategy brings forward concrete steps to put Europe's biodiversity on the path to recovery by 2030, including transforming at least 30% of Europe's lands and seas into effectively managed protected areas and bringing back at least 10% of agricultural area under high-diversity landscape features.

The European Commission proposed financial back-up for the ambitious actions to be implemented under the strategy. On 27 May 2020, the new recovery instrument called ‘Next Generation EU’ was presented as part of the revamped long-term EU budget focusing on green and digital transitions and resilience of national economies. Most of the financial facilities can support protection and restoration of biodiversity and eco-systems. The most directly related budget is a €15 billion reinforcement for the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development to support rural areas in making the structural changes necessary in line with the European Green Deal and achieving the ambitious targets in line with the new biodiversity and farm-to-fork strategies.

Image credit: Photo by Min An from Pexels
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Biodiversity
COVID-19
European Union