On the eve of the International Day for Biological Diversity, the European Commission adopted two comprehensive strategies for the protection of biodiversity and a fair, healthy and environmentally friendly food system.
The COVID-19 pandemic made us reflect on our vulnerability. We realised the utter importance of energy in our everyday lives. Also, it showed how crucial is the loss of biodiversity and how it is impacting our health. A healthy ecosystem comes before a healthy society.
“Climate change and biodiversity loss are a clear and present danger to humanity,” said Executive Vice-President for the European Green Deal Frans Timmermans. “At the heart of the Green Deal, the Biodiversity and Farm to Fork strategies point to a new and better balance of nature, food systems and biodiversity; to protect our people’s health and well-being and at the same time to increase the EU’s competitiveness and resilience. These strategies are a crucial part of the great transition we are embarking upon.”
Why biodiversity is that important
Establishing the International Day for Biological Diversity, the United Nations underlined how biological diversity is often understood in terms of the wide variety of plants, animals and microorganisms. But it also includes genetic differences within each species and the variety of ecosystems that host multiple kinds of interactions among their members, including humans.
As a result of unsustainable human activities, the global population of wild species has fallen by 60 per cent over the last 40 years and about one million species are at the risk of extinction within decades.
The new EU Biodiversity Strategy brings forward concrete steps to put Europe’s biodiversity on the path to recovery by 2030, including transforming at least 30 per cent of Europe’s lands and seas into effectively managed protected areas and bringing back at least 10 per cent of agricultural area under high-diversity landscape features.
It proposes, among others, to 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.
The importance of solar
Brussels-based member-led association SolarPower Europe welcomed the Commission’s strategy and the role that solar energy will play in helping saving different ecosystems. In fact, solar farms provide biodiversity-friendly soil cover which allows for increased plant growth and wildlife health.
“Solar farms can have a positive impact on biodiversity,” commented Aurelie Beauvais, Policy Director at SolarPower Europe. “A recent study from Germany showed that the land that solar farms are built to show greater diversity, provide refuge for different species and maintain habitat structures. Climate protection and the protection of biodiversity can go hand in hand and solar can help promote and conserve biological diversity.”
According to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), solar and wind energy dominated the renewable capacity expansion, jointly accounting for 90 per cent of all net renewable additions in 2019. In particular, in Central and Eastern Europe, solar capacity expanded to 17,216 megawatts, an increase of 48 per cent – more than double of the 20 per cent growth measured globally – compared to 2018.
Threats and successes in CEE
The EU Biodiversity Strategy also focuses on restoring damaged ecosystems and rivers and improving the health of the continent’s forests. However, there is a long road ahead for Central and Eastern Europe.
In Bosnia and Herzegovina, eight dams are planned on the Neretva, one of the largest rivers of the eastern part of the Adriatic basin. The area is still recognised for its natural beauty and diversity of its landscapes. It is extremely rich in water and natural resources with many endemic life forms. But the existing and planned hydropower utilisation are threatening this fragile ecosystem.
Similar threats are also a reality among EU Members. Early in February, the Commission urged Romania to properly implement the EU Timber Regulation (EUTR), which prevents timber companies from producing and placing on the EU market products made from illegally harvested logs. The Commission had found that the Romanian authorities are managing forests without evaluating beforehand the impacts on protected habitats as required. Furthermore, protected forest habitats have been lost within protected Natura 2000 sites in breach of the Habitats and Birds Directives.
On a positive note, in April, Albania’s parliament approved the amended law on the Protection of Biodiversity, finally meeting the obligations arising from the Nagoya Protocol adopted in 2014. According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the country had not yet established the necessary measures under the Nagoya Protocol, related to the monitoring of genetic resources and user-compliance measures. In that regard, public awareness and the development of the national legislation on ABS in line with the Nagoya Protocol were referred to as priorities for the country.
“Build Back Better”
“A failure of the humankind.” So defined the European Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries Virginijus Sinkevičius, the current poor global action.
Often, human activities have a negative impact on ecosystems worldwide. However, humans are part of those ecosystems and they should work in harmony with nature.
That’s why the 2020 theme chosen for the International Day for Biological Diversity is Our solutions are in nature. The theme emphasises hope, solidarity and the importance of working together at all levels to build a future of life in harmony with nature because biological diversity resources are the pillars upon which we build civilisations.
Loss of biodiversity threatens all, including our health. We have learned this, in particular during this year, defined as “a year of reflection, opportunity and solutions.” As the world starts its slow recovery from the global pandemic, we hope that we will “Build Back Better”.