Protecting and Restoring Nature in the European Union

Protecting and Restoring Nature in the European Union

on August 18, 2020

The EU has legal frameworks, strategies and action plans to protect nature and restore habitats and species. But protection has been incomplete, restoration has been smallscale, and the implementation and enforcement of legislation has been insufficient.

To put biodiversity on the path to recovery by 2030, we need to step up the protection and restoration of nature. This should be done by improving and widening our network of protected areas and by developing an ambitious EU Nature Restoration Plan.

A coherent network of protected areas

Biodiversity fares better in protected areas. However, the current network of legally protected areas, including those under strict protection, is not sufficiently large to safeguard biodiversity. Evidence shows that the targets defined under the Convention on Biological Diversity are insufficient to adequately protect and restore nature. Global efforts are needed and the EU itself needs to do more and better for nature and build a truly coherent Trans-European Nature Network.

Enlarging protected areas is also an economic imperative. Studies on marine systems estimate that every euro invested in marine protected areas would generate a return of at least €319. Similarly, the Nature Fitness Check20 showed that the benefits of Natura 2000 are valued at between €200-300 billion per year. The investment needs of the network are expected to support as many as 500,000 additional jobs.

For the good of our environment and our economy, and to support the EU’s recovery from the COVID-19 crisis, we need to protect more nature. In this spirit, at least 30% of the land and 30% of the sea should be protected in the EU. This is a minimum of an extra 4% for land and 19% for sea areas as compared to today22. The target is fully in line with what is being proposed as part of the post-2020 global biodiversity framework.

Within this, there should be specific focus on areas of very high biodiversity value or potential. These are the most vulnerable to climate change and should be granted special care in the form of strict protection. Today, only 3% of land and less than 1% of marine areas are strictly protected in the EU. We need to do better to protect these areas. In this spirit, at least one third of protected areas – representing 10% of EU land and 10% of EU sea – should be strictly protected. This is also in line with the proposed global ambition.

As part of this focus on strict protection, it will be crucial to define, map, monitor and strictly protect all the EU’s remaining primary and old-growth forests. It will also be important to advocate for the same globally and ensure that EU actions do not result in deforestation in other regions of the world. Primary and old-growth forests are the richest forest ecosystems that remove carbon from the atmosphere, while storing significant carbon stocks. Significant areas of other carbon-rich ecosystems, such as peatlands, grasslands, wetlands, mangroves and seagrass meadows should also be strictly protected, taking into account projected shifts in vegetation zones.

Member States will be responsible for designating the additional protected and strictly protected areas. Designations should either help to complete the Natura 2000 network or be under national protection schemes. All protected areas will need to have clearly defined conservation objectives and measures. The Commission, working with Member States and the European Environment Agency, will put forward in 2020 criteria and guidance for identifying and designating additional areas, including a definition of strict protection, as well as for appropriate management planning. In doing so, it will indicate how other effective area-based conservation measures and greening of cities could contribute to the targets.

The targets relate to the EU as a whole and could be broken down according to the EU bio-geographical regions and sea basins or at a more local level. Every Member State will have to do its fair share of the effort based on objective ecological criteria, recognising that each country has a different quantity and quality of biodiversity. Particular focus will be placed on protecting and restoring the tropical and sub-tropical marine and terrestrial ecosystems in the EU’s outermost regions given their exceptionally high biodiversity value.

In addition, in order to have a truly coherent and resilient Trans-European Nature Network, it will be important to set up ecological corridors to prevent genetic isolation, allow for species migration, and maintain and enhance healthy ecosystems. In this context, investments in green and blue infrastructure and cooperation across borders among Member States should be promoted and supported, including through the European Territorial Cooperation.

The Commission will aim to agree the criteria and guidance for additional designations with Member States by the end of 2021. Member States will then have until the end of 2023 to demonstrate significant progress in legally designating new protected areas and integrating ecological corridors. On this basis, the Commission will assess by 2024 whether the EU is on track to meet its 2030 targets or whether stronger actions, including EU legislation, are needed.

Finally, the Overseas Countries and Territories also host important biodiversity hotspots, not governed by EU environmental rules. The Commission encourages relevant Member States to consider promoting equal or equivalent rules in these countries and territories.

Nature protection: key commitments by 2030:

  1. Legally protect a minimum of 30% of the EU’s land area and 30% of the EU’s sea area and integrate ecological corridors, as part of a true Trans-European Nature Network.
  2. Strictly protect at least a third of the EU’s protected areas, including all remaining EU primary and old-growth forests.
  3. Effectively manage all protected areas, defining clear conservation objectives and measures, and monitoring them appropriately

For the full report on EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 follow the link to the European Comission page.