Member states fail to endorse concrete actions to protect biodiversity
EU environment ministers yesterday (21 June) failed to endorse concrete measures proposed by the European Commission to protect biodiversity, with some expressing reservations even on the proposed targets of the EU 2020 biodiversity strategy until more clarity is found on actions and funding.
EU environment ministers yesterday adopted conclusions on the EU 2020 biodiversity strategy, tabled by the Commission on 3 May, but were unable to endorse 20 concrete measures accompanying six headline targets proposed by the EU executive.
After a lively public debate on the draft conclusions, ministers rubber-stamped the strategy, together with its targets, as "a key instrument to enable the EU to reach its overall 2020 headline target" (see 'Background').
But instead of backing the 20 measures, the Council conclusions stress "the need to further discuss the actions in order to ensure the effective and coherent implementation of the strategy".
Some countries, including Italy and Denmark, even refused to endorse the strategy's targets and said they would table unilateral statements making clear their delegations' views on the matter.
Italy's statement notes that the yesterday's conclusions "do not involve any automatic support to the targets set out in that strategy, which will require further in-depth discussion".
Danish Environment Minister Karen Ellemann stressed that the Council had not had enough time to properly assess the six targets, the 20 actions or their financial implications, since the strategy had only been tabled six weeks ago by the EU executive.
She also said it was not clear exactly what the Commission and member states would do, neither was it clear how much the proposed targets and actions would cost them.
Italy, meanwhile, said the "financial implications need further careful consideration" and warned: "We have to be careful what we sign up to."
Bulgarian Environment Minister Nona Karadzhova remarked that restoring biodiversity would be very expensive and pointed out that since one third of Bulgarian territory was part of the Natura network of protected sites, implementation of the proposed biodiversity strategy would require a lot of money.
Denmark's Ellemann warned the EU not to repeat past mistakes, arguing that the bloc failed to reach its 2010 biodiversity goals because it had never really agreed on their meaning, had never genuinely subscribed to them and never discussed ways to finance them.
Austria, Denmark and the UK stressed the need to consider options for funding biodiversity through the EU's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), highlighting the policy's second pillar as an ideal instrument for delivering a range of environmental outcomes, including biodiversity.
Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik acknowledged that the new biodiversity strategy had come out in a difficult economic context and admitted that "when times are tough, concerns for the environment tend to slip down on the list of priorities".
But he insisted that "the current economic distress is not caused by environment policy or concerns for the environment".
He argued that the Commission proposal represents "the minimum we need to do if we are to reach the EU 2020 headline targets adopted by EU heads of state and government. There is not much margin in the proposed strategy".
"The targets and actions are the result of careful analysis, consultation and preparation and the Commission stands firm on their seriousness and adequacy," he added.
On timing, Potočnik acknowledged that the Council did not have the luxury of time when discussing the strategy, adding that he could understand if some governments needed more time to consider the actions listed in the strategy.
Finally, responding to concerns related to the cost of the strategy, Potočnik pointed to scientific evidence showing that the cost of non-compliance is higher that the cost of compliance.
WWF, an environmental NGO, regretted that the ministers did not endorse the actions needed to achieve the targets, which were merely postponed for further discussion.
Andreas Baumüller, WWF's biodiversity policy officer, said that "as long as the strategy, together with its targets, is not supported by concrete actions, the strategy remains powerless and will not deliver the necessary changes needed to finally halt biodiversity loss in Europe. It's like getting a nicely wrapped present with nothing inside - so disappointing".
BirdLife Europe welcomed the ministers' endorsement of the strategy and called on member states "to follow on their new commitment by reforming the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) and allocate sufficient funding for biodiversity in the new EU budget".
Oceana said it was disappointed with the "poor and inconsistent conclusions," which "lack adequate political force and thereby significantly water down the proposed EU 2020 biodiversity strategy," in particular regarding fisheries.
Xavier Pastor, Oceana's executive director, said the EU must structurally reform its fisheries policies if it is to halt biodiversity loss and restore the health of its oceans.
"The biodiversity strategy was supposed to pave the way for an ecologically sustainable reform of the CFP, but today the Council adopted hollow conclusions, separating the objectives from the actions needed to achieve them," despite EU member states having committed ten years ago to restoring fish stocks to levels that can produce the Maximum Sustainable Yield no later than 2015, Pastor added.
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