Position paper: Restoring Europe’s nature
Under the umbrella of the European Habitats Forum Eurosite signed on to a position paper that was sent to the European Commission two weeks ago.
Habitats across Europe are not in good health and ecosystem degradation is a major issue across the EU. Habitat fragmentation, loss and degradation as a result of land and sea use change, through e.g. agricultural intensification, grey infrastructure developments, overfishing or intensified forestry, is widespread. Further major drivers of biodiversity loss, such as the over-exploitation of natural resources both on land and at sea, the effects of the climate crisis, pollution and invasive alien species have also contributed to the decline in quantity and quality of important ecosystems, as well as to the decline in nature’s contribution to people across Europe. As a result of this degradation, while still much-needed, conservation and protection of remaining ecosystems can no longer halt biodiversity loss on their own. We need to take action to bring back ‘high-quality’ nature by restoring degraded ecosystems to enable nature to recover and to improve the health and resilience of our ecosystems in order to turn the tide against biodiversity loss. Yet, progress on ecosystem restoration has been insufficient in this past decade. The global biodiversity targets for 2020, the Aichi Targets, and the targets of the EU’s Biodiversity Strategy for 2020 both included a commitment to restore 15% of degraded ecosystems, however, this has been missed by far. Land degradation, through e.g. the drying and burning of peatlands or deforestation, substantially contributes to the climate crisis, being responsible for 3.6-4.4 billion tons of CO2 globally between 2000 and 2009. The IPCC further estimates that 23% of total global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions between 2007 and 2016 derived from agriculture, forestry and other land use. Restoration activities, on the other hand, hold significant potential for climate mitigation and adaptation, as “actions to avoid, reduce and reverse land degradation can provide more than one third of the most cost-effective climate mitigation needed to keep global warming under 2°C by 2030”. Restoring ecosystems such as peatlands, floodplains, coastal areas, or upland forests can also provide solutions for climate adaptation by improving water retention, providing flood and drought protection, mitigate heat or provide protection from erosions and landslides. In addition to major biodiversity and climate mitigation and adaptation benefits, restoration activities also provide significant social and economic benefits such as sustainable jobs for local communities or recreation opportunities, and can contribute to our overall health and wellbeing, including by enhancing our resilience against future pandemics and through the provision of vital ecosystem services. The restoration law should lay the groundwork for activities developed in conjunction with local stakeholders to determine adequate interventions for each landscape and community. The legislation should take measures to avoid increasing pressure on local livelihoods and take into account existing social dynamics. Economically, investments in restoration activities and in avoiding land degradation generally by far exceed the costs thereof. Overall, there is thus a clear case for restoration activities from an ecological, climate, social and economic perspective.
The EU’s Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 includes a commitment that ‘’subject to an impact assessment, the Commission will put forward a proposal for legally binding EU nature restoration targets in 2021 to restore degraded ecosystems, in particular those with the most potential to capture and store carbon and to prevent and reduce the impact of natural disasters.’’ The legally binding targets will require a new legal instrument, further referred to as ‘restoration law’, that presents a major opportunity for turning the tide against biodiversity loss while also contributing to climate mitigation and adaptation. In the position paper, the undersigning NGOs present recommendations on key elements of the restoration law, focusing on the objectives, targets, criteria, measures, governance and finance aspects of the new law.