EU Environment Ministers fail to stand up for nature

In December 2011, European Environment Ministers, in their Council Conclusions, were incapable of agreeing on concrete actions to integrate the new targets of the EU 2020 Biodiversity Strategy in the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

© Ariel Brunner

The Council Conclusions come as a response to the new EU 2020 Biodiversity Strategy proposed by the European Commission in May 2011, as a battle plan to tackle the unprecedented loss of biodiversity. After failing to reach the 2010 target of halting biodiversity loss, the new target is to halt the loss of biodiversity and the degradation of ecosystems by 2020, and to restore them as far as possible.

The new Biodiversity Strategy explicitly includes targets to be met and actions to be taken in the area of agriculture and fisheries management. Moreover many of the actions proposed in the Strategy will necessitate both improved investment in biodiversity protection and a significant reduction of the harmful impacts that some current EU subsidies generate on nature. It is thus clear that the EU 2020 Biodiversity Target can only be met through ambitious reforms of EU subsidies in the areas of agriculture, fisheries and cohesion.

Indeed, the agricultural ecosystem is in dire straits.

BirdLife Europe told ARC2020 that “the latest data on farmland bird populations in 2011 show that they are at an all-time low and have decreased by 48% since 1980, making them the most threatened birds in Europe, with 20 out of 36 species in decline.”

BirdLife Europe has therefore asked for a greening of the whole of the CAP. This means both an improved rural development budget, with more attention for environmental measures that deliver on the ground, and also an increase in the baseline for the first pillar under the form of a substantive greening.

Current proposals go in that direction to a certain extent, but are by no means going far enough to tackle the environmental crisis that is occuring in European agriculture.

Environment Ministers stressed the need to integrate biodiversity concerns into all EU and national sectoral policies. However the fact that they failed to adopt any concrete language on agriculture is an ill omen for an increased consideration of biodiversity protection and sustainable development in the new CAP for the period 2014-2020.

Guest author: Sophie Herbert, EU nature Policy officer, BirdLife Europe