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Explainer: EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 – Bringing nature back into our lives

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1. What is the new 2030 Biodiversity Strategy?

The new 2030 Biodiversity Strategy is a comprehensive, systemic and ambitious long-term plan for protecting nature and reversing the degradation of ecosystems. It is a key pillar of the European Green Deal and of EU leadership on international action for global public goods and sustainable development goals.

With an objective to put Europe’s biodiversity to recovery by 2030, the Strategy sets out new ways to implement existing legislation more effectively, new commitments, measures, targets and governance mechanisms. These include:

Transforming at least 30% of Europe’s lands and seas into effectively managed protected areas. The goal is to build upon existing Natura 2000 areas, complementing them with nationally protected areas, while ensuring strict protection for areas of very high biodiversity and climate value.

Restoring degraded ecosystems across the EU that are in a poor state, as well as reducing pressures on biodiversity. The Strategy proposes a far-reaching EU Nature Restoration Plan that includes: Subject to an impact assessment, developing a proposal for a new legal framework for nature restoration, with binding targets to restore damaged ecosystems, including the most-carbon-rich ones; Improving the conservation status or trend of at least 30% of EU protected habitats and species that are not in a favourable status; Restoring at least 25,000 km of rivers to be free-flowing; Halting and reversing the decline in farmland birds and insects, particularly pollinators; Reducing the overall use of and risk from chemical pesticides, and reducing the use of the more hazardous/dangerous ones by 50%; Manage at least 25% of agricultural land under organic farming, and significantly enhance the uptake of agro-ecological practices; Reducing the losses of nutrients from fertilisers by at least 50% and fertiliser use by at least 20%; Planting at least 3 billion trees, in full respect of ecological principles and protecting the remaining primary and old-growth forests; Eliminating bycatch of protected species or reducing it to a level that allows full species recovery and does not threaten their conservation status.

Enabling transformational change. The Strategy sets in motion a new process to improve biodiversity governance, ensuring Member States integrate the commitments of the strategy into national policies. A Biodiversity Knowledge Centre and a Biodiversity Partnership will support better implementation of biodiversity research and innovation in Europe. The Strategy seeks to stimulate tax systems and pricing to better reflect real environmental costs, including the cost of biodiversity loss, and that biodiversity is truly integrated into public and business decision-making.

2. Why is biodiversity important?

Biodiversity – the variety of life on Earth, including plants, animals, fungi, micro-organisms, and the habitats in which they live – and ecosystems that living species form, provide us with food, materials, medicines, recreation, health and wellbeing. They clean the water, pollinate the crops, purify the air, absorb vast quantities of carbon, regulate the climate, keep soils fertile, provide us with medicine, and deliver many of the basic building blocks for industry.

Damaged ecosystems are more fragile, and have a limited capacity to deal with extreme events and new diseases. Well-balanced ecosystems, by contrast, protect us against unforeseen disasters and, when we use them in a sustainable manner, they offer many of the best solutions to urgent challenges.

Losing biodiversity is:

  • a climate issue – destroying and damaging ecosystems and soils speeds up global warming while nature restoration mitigates climate change;
  • a business issue – natural capital provides essential resources for industry and agriculture;
  • a security and safety issue – loss of natural resources, especially in developing countries, can lead to conflicts and increases everywhere vulnerability to natural disasters;
  • a food security issue – plants, animals including pollinators and soil organisms play a vital role in our food system;
  • a health issue – the destruction of nature increases the risk and reduces our resilience to diseases. Nature also has a beneficial effect on peoples’ mental health and welfare;
  • an equity issue – loss of biodiversity hurts the poorest most of all, making inequalities worse;
  • an intergenerational issue – we are robbing our descendants of the basis for a fulfilled life.

3. How will the implementation of the Biodiversity Strategy boost Europe’s recovery after the coronavirus crisis?

The European Green Deal, including this Biodiversity Strategy, is Europe’s growth strategy and will drive the recovery from the crisis. It will bring economic benefits and will help strengthen our resilience to future crises. The three key economic sectors – agriculture, construction and food and drink – are all highly dependent on nature and they generate more than EUR 7 trillion. Benefits of the EU Natura 2000 nature protection network are valued at between EUR 200-300 billion per year.

Investing in nature also means investing in local jobs and business opportunities, such as nature restoration, organic agriculture, and in green and blue infrastructure. The investment needs of the Natura 2000 nature protection network are expected to support as many as 500,000 additional jobs. Organic farming provides 10-20% more jobs per hectare than conventional farms. Greening the cities offers many innovative job opportunities, from designers and city planners, to urban farmers and botanists.

Conversely, if we continue down the business as usual path of ecosystem destruction, the continued degradation of our natural capital will considerably limit business opportunities and socio-economic development potential. The economic and social costs of inaction on environmental and climate issues would be huge, leading to frequent severe weather events and natural disasters as well as reducing the average EU GDP by up to 2% and by even more in some parts of the EU.* The world lost an estimated EUR 3.5-18.5 trillion per year in ecosystem services from 1997 to 2011, owing to land-cover change, and an estimated EUR 5.5-10.5 trillion per year from land degradation. Biodiversity loss results also in reduced crop yields and fish catches and the loss of potential new sources of medicine.

4. How serious is the problem of biodiversity loss?

As a result of unsustainable human activities, the global population of wild species has fallen by 60% over the last 40 years. About 1 million species are at the risk of extinction within decades. The main drivers of this loss are the conversion of natural habitats into agricultural land and the expansion of urban areas. Other causes include the overexploitation of natural resources (such as overfishing and destructive farming practices), climate change, pollution, and invasive alien species.

5. Is there a link between biodiversity loss and spread of diseases?

It is becoming clear that resilience of our society to the risks for outbreaks of zoonotic diseases with pandemic potential is weakened by demographic and economic factors. They put pressure on ecosystems leading to unsustainable exploitation of nature, including deforestation and illegal or poorly regulated wildlife trade.

If we want a healthy society, we need healthy ecosystems. We need enough space for wild animals and we need to have them in sufficient numbers. That way they act as a buffer against diseases that have no place among humans and help prevent pandemic outbreaks.

Global wildlife trade as well as poorly controlled “wet” animal markets in which fish, domestic and wild animals are sold are also an important risk factor for disease spread.

6. How does the Biodiversity Strategy support efforts to fight climate change?

Biodiversity loss and climate change are interdependent. Climate change is the third biggest driver of biodiversity loss and this loss of biodiversity has a negative effect on the climate at the same time. Instead of storing carbon in soils and biomass, damaged ecosystems release it back into the atmosphere. Deforestation increases the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which alters the climate and leads to further biodiversity loss.

Nature based solutions such as protecting biodiversity and restoring ecosystems are an excellent means of countering the effects of climate change and a very cost-effective use of resources.Restoring forests, soils and wetlands and creating green spaces in cities are essential to achieve the climate change mitigation needed by 2030.

The Nature Restoration Plan, a core element of the Biodiversity Strategy, will help reverse the decline of many terrestrial and marine species and habitats and restore them to a healthy condition.

7. How will this transformative change be financed?

The Strategy will require significant investments. At least EUR 20 billion/year  should be unlocked for spending on nature, in particular to restore ecosystems, invest in the Natura 2000 network, and in green and blue infrastructure across EU Member States. This will require mobilising private and public funding at national and EU level, including through a range of different programmes in the next long-term EU budget. Moreover, as nature restoration will make a major contribution to climate objectives, a significant proportion of the 25% of the EU budget dedicated to climate action will be invested on biodiversity and nature-based solutions.

Under InvestEU, a dedicated natural-capital and circular-economy initiative will be established to mobilise at least EUR 10 billion over the next 10 years, based on public/private blended finance. Nature and biodiversity is also a priority for the European Green Deal Investment Plan. To help unlock the investment needed, the EU must provide long-term certainty for investors and help embed sustainability in the financial system. The EU sustainable finance taxonomy will help guide investment towards a green recovery and the deployment of nature-based solutions.

8. What will be EU’s position in the international negotiations on the post-2020 biodiversity framework?

The Commission’s new Biodiversity Strategy outlines the commitments the EU could take at the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity in in 2021. With this strategy, the Commission proposes to the Council that the EU calls for the following elements to be included:

Overarching long-term goals for biodiversity in line with the United Nation vision of “living in harmony with nature” by 2050. The ambition should be that by 2050 all of the world’s ecosystems are restored, resilient, and adequately protected. The world should commit to the net-gain principle to give nature back more than it takes. The world should commit to no human-induced extinction of species, at minimum where avoidable;

Ambitious global 2030 targets in line with the EU commitments proposed in the new Biodiversity Strategy;

Improved means of implementation in areas such as finance, capacity, research, know-how and technology;

A far stronger implementation, monitoring and review process;

A fair and equitable sharing of the benefits from the use of genetic resources linked to biodiversity

9. How will this Strategy help us tackle the global biodiversity challenge?

Although tackling biodiversity loss in Europe is essential for sustainable development, most major biodiversity hotspots are outside Europe.

The EU is committed to lead by example on environmental preservation and sustainable use of natural resources not only within its borders, but also outside. It is also determined to capitalise on international partnerships to promote the biodiversity agenda, as part of the European Green Deal and to accompany the transition in developing countries. This Strategy lays down a decisive political framework to tackle the challenges ahead.

In terms of development cooperation, it lays down how we will engage in greater cooperation with partner countries and offer increased financing for biodiversity-friendly actions, as well as the phasing out of subsidies that can be harmful for nature. On trade, the Commission will deploy measures to ensure that its trade policies ‘do no harm’ to biodiversity. The EU is also promoting the role of non-state actors and indigenous groups in this process, which is essential to ensure all stakeholders are involved and the transition to a more sustainable development path also benefits the most vulnerable groups.

10. What does the Strategy mean for:

  •  Agricultural land?

The Biodiversity Strategy, together with the Farm to Fork Strategy published at the same time, includes commitments to reverse the decline of pollinator insects. The Commission proposes that 10% of agricultural land should consist of ‘high-diversity landscape features’, for instance in the form of hedges or flower strips, and the environmental impacts of the agricultural sector should be significantly reduced by 2030. The progress towards the target will be under constant review, and adjustment if needed, to mitigate against undue impact on biodiversity, food security and farmers’ competitiveness. A quarter of agricultural land should be under organic farming management by 2030, and the use and risk from pesticides should be reduced by 50%, as well as the use of the more hazardous/dangerous pesticides.

  •  Forests?

A major drive is foreseen to protect and restore EU forests, including primary and old growth forests. An objective of reaching 3 billion additional trees in the EU by 2030, i.e. doubling the current trend, is also included. The aim is to increase the area of forest coverage in the EU, the resilience of forests and their role in reverting biodiversity loss, mitigating climate change and helping us adapt to it.

  •  Soil?

The Strategy sets a commitment to restore degraded soils, update the EU Soil Thematic Strategy, and achieve EU and international commitments on land degradation neutrality. The Zero Pollution Action Plan for air, water and soil, to be adopted by the Commission in 2021, will address in particular soil contamination prevention and remediation.

  •  Marine ecosystems?

The Strategy aims to strengthen the protection of marine ecosystems and to restore them to achieve “good environmental status”, including through the expansion of protected areas and the establishment of strictly protected areas for habitats and fish stocks recovery. It stresses the need for an ecosystem-based approach to the management of human activities at sea. This means addressing the overexploitation of fishing stocks to or under, Maximum Sustainable Yield levels (i.e. a level that will allow a healthy future for the fish stock’s biomass); eliminating bycatch, or at least reducing it to non-dangerous levels, in order to protect sea mammals, turtles and birds, especially those that are threatened with extinction or in bad status; and tackling practices that damage the seabed.

  •  Freshwater ecosystems?

The implementation and enforcement of the EU’s legal framework on water and nature will be stepped up. In support of this, at least 25,000 km of rivers will be restored to a free-flowing state through the removal of barriers and the restoration of floodplains.

  •  Cities and local governments?

The promotion of healthy ecosystems, green infrastructure and nature-based solutions should be systematically integrated into urban planning, including in the design of buildings, public spaces and infrastructure, working with the Covenant of Mayors to build a movement towards nature and biodiversity actions and strategies under a new ‘Green City Accord’.

  •  Pollution?

Pollution is a major driver of biodiversity loss. The strategy calls for the elimination of pollution from nitrogen and phosphorus flows from fertilisers by 2030. Fertilizer use should be reduced by at least 20% by 2030. To achieve, this, the Commission shall present a Zero Pollution Action Plan for Air, Water and Soil in 2021, an Integrated Nutrient Management Action Plan in 2022, and an EU Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability.

  •  The spread of invasive alien species?

A commitment to significantly limit the introduction of invasive alien species, with the aim of decreasing the number of Red List species threatened by invasive alien species by 50% is made in the strategy. To achieve this, a new implementation drive for the Invasive Alien Species Regulation is foreseen, focusing on the prevention of new introductions and the management of established invasive alien species.

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Commission concludes talks to secure future coronavirus vaccine for Europeans

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The European Commission has concluded exploratory talks with a pharmaceutical company to purchase a potential vaccine against COVID-19. The envisaged contract with Sanofi-GSK* would provide for an option for all EU Member States to purchase the vaccine. It is envisaged that, once a vaccine has proven to be safe and effective against COVID-19, the Commission would have a contractual framework in place for the purchase of 300 million doses, on behalf of all EU Member States. The Commission continues intensive discussions with other vaccine manufacturers.

President von der Leyen said: “The European Commission does all in its power to ensure that Europeans have rapid access to a vaccine that is safe and protects them from coronavirus. Today’s step with Sanofi-GSK is a first important cornerstone of a much broader European Vaccines Strategy. More will follow soon. We are in advanced discussions with several other companies. While we do not know today which vaccine will work best in the end, Europe is investing in a diversified portfolio of promising vaccines, based on various types of technologies. This increases our chances to obtain rapidly an effective remedy against the virus. A vaccine would be a truly global good. We are committed to help secure access also for more vulnerable countries to find their way out of this crisis.”

Stella Kyriakides, Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, said: “A safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine is the surest exit strategy from the crisis. For that reason, we have been negotiating a united EU approach to secure doses of promising vaccine candidates in recent weeks. Today’s announcement of the conclusion of exploratory talks with Sanofi-GSK is the first important step in this direction, to provide equal access to the vaccine for our citizens.”

The exploratory talks concluded today are intended to result in an Advance Purchase Agreement to be financed with the Emergency Support Instrument, which has funds dedicated to the creation of a portfolio of potential vaccines with different profiles and produced by different companies.   

The European Commission is also committed to ensuring that everyone who needs a vaccine gets it, anywhere in the world and not only at home. No one will be safe until everyone is safe.

This is why it has raised almost €16 billion since 4 May 2020 under the Coronavirus Global Response, the global action for universal access to tests, treatments and vaccines against coronavirus and for the global recovery. 

The Commission is also ready to explore with international partners if a significant number of countries would agree to pool resources for jointly reserving future vaccines from companies for themselves as well as for low and middle-income countries at the same time. The high-income countries could act as an inclusive international buyers’ group, thus accelerating the development of safe and effective vaccines and maximise access to them for all who need it across the world.

Background

The European Commission presented on 17 June a European strategy to accelerate the development, manufacturing and deployment of effective and safe vaccines against COVID-19. In return for the right to buy a specified number of vaccine doses in a given timeframe, the Commission would finance part of the upfront costs faced by vaccines producers in the form of Advance Purchase Agreements. Funding provided would be considered as a down-payment on the vaccines that will actually be purchased by Member States.

Since the high cost and high failure rate make investing in a COVID-19 vaccine a high-risk decision for vaccine developers, these agreements will therefore allow investments to be made that otherwise would simply probably not happen.

Sanofi-GSK’s vaccine candidate is planning to seek marketing authorisation from EMA in June 2021, following Phase III clinical trials yielding the induction of a promising immune response.

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European Commission strengthens support for treatment through convalescent plasma

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European Commission has invited more than 200 blood-collection services around the EU to apply for funding for the purchase of plasmapheresis equipment, i.e. equipment that takes plasma from donors. The aim of this action is to support the treatment of new COVID-19 patients who are fighting the disease, by increasing EU capacity to collect convalescent plasma, i.e. plasma from recovered COVID-19 patients. This action is part of the Emergency Support Instrument (ESI). Grants will be provided to public and NGO blood-collection services authorised to collect plasma.

This action demonstrates the Commission’s commitment to developing therapeutics, as specified in the EU health preparedness for possible future outbreaks communication.  

Stella Kyriakides, Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, said: “Convalescent plasma could be a promising treatment for COVID-19.With the financing we put forward today, we are able to go a step further in plasma collection and I invite all relevant stakeholders to make use of it. We will continue to explore all possible options to support the development and access to safe and effective treatments for COVID-19 to protect our citizens. This remains our primary objective in the weeks and months ahead.”

The treatment consists of transfusing convalescent plasma to sick patients to boost their immunity and ability to fight the disease. Plasma transfusion is also used to purify antibodies to make a COVID-19 specific medicinal product (immunoglobin) as short-term alternative to vaccines. This product is given as a prophylactic injection to patients, vulnerable persons and healthcare workers, or as a treatment. The efficacy of these treatments is being investigated worldwide, including in an EU research project funded by Horizon 2020. Preliminary results are promising while results from full clinical trials are forthcoming.

These treatments rely on the collection of large quantities of convalescent plasma donated by recovered patients.

At the moment, almost 75% of plasma collected by public blood services and the Red Cross is done via donations of whole blood, from which the plasma is then separated. This is a much less efficient collection method compared with plasmapheresis – a bedside process where plasma is taken from the donor whilst the other blood components are returned to the donor. In case of plasmapheresis, donors can donate higher volumes of plasma at one time and can donate once every 2 weeks compared with once every 3-4 months for whole blood donors. Additionally, ‘super donors’ – donors whose plasma is particularly rich in antibodies – can be asked to give donations many times over a period of months.

The invitation is valid for a month, and has a budget of €40 million funded through the Emergency Support Instrument. The allocation of grants will be done according to the needs expressed by Member States’ blood-collection services

The budget will support the purchase of a number of plasmapheresis machines and associated equipment, including collection kits, storage facilities, the testing and characterisation of plasma and organisational programmes.

Background Information

Adopted by the Council in April 2020, the Emergency Support Instrument (ESI) allows the EU to provide emergency support addressing the human and economic consequences of a crisis such as the ongoing pandemic.

The ESI supports Member States in their efforts to address the COVID-19 pandemic in a strategic and coordinated manner at European level.

In the health area, the ESI is already being used to help address Member States’ ongoing needs and to contribute to preparedness for future outbreaks and a possible second wave. In particular, the ESI is supporting the transport of essential goods, medical teams and patients and is financing a facility to procure essential medical products for stockpiling and/or distribution to Member States.

Under the procurement facility, a contract was signed on 28 July to secure doses of the therapeutic Remdesivir for around 30,000 patients across the EU. Some 10 million masks to protect healthcare workers have also been purchased and delivery through batches is on-going.

A significant part of the budget available under the ESI will be used to secure the production of vaccines in the EU and sufficient supplies for its Member States through Advance Purchase Agreements with vaccine producers, in line with the EU Vaccines Strategy.

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Covid-19: 10 things the EU is doing to ensure economic recovery

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Find out what the EU is doing to help Europe get back on its feet following the devastating economic effects brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic.

1. Providing massive economic stimulus

To help Europe recover from the devastating economic repercussions wrought by the coronavirus pandemic, the European Commission has proposed a €750 billion stimulus plan, coupled with a revised proposal for the EU’s next long-term budget (2021-2027). The plan – known as Next Generation EU – sees the Commission borrowing money on financial markets, using its high credit rating to secure low borrowing costs. The Parliament insists that the Green Deal is at the heart of the recovery package and wants to avoid burdening future generations.

EU leaders reached a deal on the budget and recovery plan mid-July. Though MEPs welcomed the agreement on the recovery package, they regretted the decrease in grants. Parliament said the agreement on the long-term budget put EU priorities such as the Green Deal and the Digital Agenda at risk and said it was prepared to withhold its consent unless the deal is improved.

2. Supporting EU health systems and infrastructures

With several experts mentioning the possibility of a second wave or future pandemics, buttressing the EU’s response capacity to health crises is key. To help Europe cope with future outbreaks, the EU launched the new EU4Health programme, which will bolster member states’ healthcare systems as well as fostering innovation and investment in the sector. EU4Health is part of the Next Generation EU recovery plan. The Parliament had insisted on the creation of a new stand-alone European health programme.

3. Protecting small and medium-sized businesses

Small and medium-sized enterprises represent 99% of all businesses in the EU, making their survival crucial to the EU’s economic recovery. The EU unlocked €1 billion from its European Fund for Strategic Investments to incentivise banks and lenders to provide liquidity to more than 100,000 European small businesses.

4. Mitigating unemployment risks

Jobs have been hard hit by the pandemic, with unemployment figures rising dramatically. To help workers in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis, the EU’s Support mitigating Unemployment Risks in Emergency (Sure) initiative will provide financial assistance of up to €100 billion to member states in the form of loans granted on favourable terms to help cover the costs of national short-time work schemes.

5. Supporting the tourism industry

Another sector badly affected by the pandemic is tourism. Europe is the world’s number one tourist destination and the EU introduced a series of measures designed to help the industry cope during the crisis, as well as a package to reboot Europe’s tourism in 2020 and beyond. Relief measures for the transport sector were also introduced, to minimise the effects of the pandemic on airlines, railways, road and shipping companies. To help people travel in Europe as various countries gradually lift lockdown measures, the Re-open EU interactive tool provides travellers with the information they need to confidently plan their travel and holidays in the EU while staying healthy.

6. Banking package to support households and businesses

To ensure banks continue providing loans to businesses and households to mitigate the economic fallout from the crisis, the Parliament approved a temporary relaxation of prudential rules for European banks. Changes to to the capital requirements regulation will enable pensioners or employees with a permanent contract to get loans under more favourable conditions, ensure credit flows to small and medium-sized enterprises and support infrastructure investment.

7. Supporting agriculture and fisheries

In order to avoid disruption to food supplies and prevent food shortages, the Parliament approved emergency measures to help farmers and fishermen affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. Measures include supporting fishermen and aquafarmers who have had to stop their activity during the crisis and an increasing the support EU countries can give to small firms dealing with farm food. Exceptional market measures were also introduced to support EU wine, fruit and vegetable producers.

8. Helping countries fund their crisis response

To help member states fund their coronavirus crisis response, the EU launched a new initiative, the Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative. It will channel some €37 billion from EU structural funds to provide immediate financial support to EU countries trying to help people and regions face the current crisis.

9. Relaxing state aid rules

As the pandemic was beginning to spread throughout Europe, the EU launched a Temporary Framework on State Aid rules to ensure sufficient liquidity remains available to businesses of all types and help maintain economic activity during and after the Covid-19 outbreak. Member states will be able to grant up to €800,000 to a company to address urgent liquidity needs or grant loans with favourable interest rates

10. Protecting weakened European businesses from foreign competitors

The economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic has left many European companies vulnerable to subsidised foreign competitors. To help protect businesses, the Parliament called for a level-playing field for all businesses, to avoid distortions to the single market stemming from unfair competition from foreign companies. The Commission also launched a public consultation on how to deal with the negative effects caused by foreign subsidies. In parallel, the EU issued guidelines for member states on foreign direct investment, urging them to thoroughly screen investments from outside the EU to avoid risks to the EU’s security and public order.

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