Europe’s most precious and iconic nature is under threat. There are 420 million fewer birds than 30 years ago and two-thirds of European wetlands have been lost over the last 100 years. Once common flowers, birds, butterflies, amphibians and reptiles are getting rarer by the day, and bees across Europe are in rapid decline.
Why does it matter? Preserving the unique set of conditions that allows for the continued existence of life on our planet is our common responsibility. Biodiversity (the variety of plant and animal life) is humanity’s life insurance. By protecting biodiversity we preserve ecosystems such as forests, wetlands or coral reefs which deliver a variety of essential life supporting services (“ecosystem services”).
These services include the creation and preservation of the soil needed to produce our food, the storing of carbon in soil and vegetation that regulates our climate, the purification of the water we drink and the air we breathe. Our well-being and future prosperity is intrinsically linked to the health of our ecosystems.
To protect these ecosystems (and the public goods they provide) from human activities that may lead to their deterioration and irreversible loss we need a strong legal framework. Beyond its intrinsic value, biodiversity serves as a proxy to ensure we are on the right track. The more species we lose, the closer we come to the collapse and the irreversible loss of our ecosystems and the essential life supporting services they provide. The more diverse life is on earth, the healthier and resilient our ecosystems. Biodiversity is our lifeline.
Our current production and consumption patterns are causing unprecedented levels of species loss, destroying the very nature we need to survive. In Europe, industrial farming is one of the main drivers of habitat destruction and nature loss. The fragmentation of habitats, due to increasing urban sprawl, infrastructure development, climate change and the introduction and spread of invasive alien species, is also playing a key role in this deterioration of Europe’s nature.
In 2010, EU leaders made a binding commitment to reverse this downward trend by 2020. However, Europe is way off track to meet this target and report after report highlights the alarming state of plants and wildlife on the continent. One of the reasons for this is that EU nature protection laws are not being used to their full potential and not enough action is being taken to enforce them. Severe underfunding means the network is often underperforming when it comes to nature protection.
Despite these shortcomings, the laws are a success story: they are vitally important and have established Natura 2000, the largest network of protected natural areas in the world. This means that 18% of EU territory on land and around 6% of its seas are, in theory, safe from harm. They also enjoy wide public support: when in 2015 the European Commission suggested that these laws could be changed, over 500,000 citizens demanded that they be kept and not weakened by EU leaders’ drive to ‘cut red tape’.
The EEB’s focus is now on ensuring that the EU’s nature laws are strengthened and that the money is available at both an EU and a national level for them to be properly enforced with adequate sanctions imposed on those who defy them. The EEB is also pressuring the Commission to ensure that all EU policies are aligned with nature protection objectives.
The longer it takes to clean up the environmental impact of farming and energy – two of the most harmful sectors for nature – the more difficult and expensive it will be to preserve habitats and wildlife.
Cover photo credits: Wild Wonders of Europe – Mark Hamblin
of animal and plant species protected in the EU are threatened, declining or depleted
are protected by EU nature laws