How can the EU ensure its Green Deal is a real deal for nature and people?

#CriticalThinking

Climate, Energy & Sustainability

Picture of Luc Bas
Luc Bas

European Director at the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN)

EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen sent a strong message about the importance of intensified action to preserve nature at the World Economic Forum, where she called for an ambitious Paris-style agreement for biodiversity. The post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework will need to be supportive of and in line with the vision of the European Green Deal and vice versa. 

The Green Deal has the potential to start the much-needed transformation of our economic system in the EU and worldwide. It underlines that all aspects of our lives are dependent on healthy ecosystems and recognises how narrow sectorial approaches have been unable to address the current planetary emergency. 

Nonetheless, for the Green Deal to become a true game-changer, its ownership, solid implementing regulations, sufficient and targeted resource mobilisation for nature-based solutions and a strong assessment of the possible undesired effects outside of the EU need to be ensured.  

The various sectors of society need to assume ownership of the Green Deal and understand the benefits of being part of it – this will be key to reaching ‘a just transition for all’, one of the headline objectives of the Green Deal. Convening stakeholders and creating a space for dialogue, something that the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) systematically ensures in the context of its work, is critical to meeting this need. These discussions should be supported by the science-based knowledge which IUCN provides, in particular through its renowned European Red Lists of Species, reports on various key environmental issues, and recently, the IUCN Global Standard on Nature-based Solutions (NbS).

EU member states should already pledge at national level to move beyond ‘business as usual’

The Green Deal will need ambitious legislative tools to ensure proper implementation; it cannot become the umpteenth paper tiger of environmental policy. The EU Nature Restoration Plan encompassed in the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 and the call by MEPs for binding 2030 targets for materials use and consumption footprintare a great indication that Europe is moving in the right direction. 

Although developing agreed and legally-binding national targets for the protection and restoration of nature is key, EU member states should already pledge at national level to move beyond ‘business as usual’ in order to rise up to the promises in the High Ambition Coalition for Nature and People, the Leaders Pledge for Nature and the #UnitedforBiodiversity coalition promoted by the EU.

National pledges must be clear and include four key cornerstones: increase well-managed protected areas, restore degraded ecosystems, move species off the Red List and invest more resources in nature recovery. So far, we have not seen many pledges for nature or a real ambition through a coalition of willing member states, as we have seen with climate change. However, this is still possible in the run-up to the IUCN World Conservation Congress in September and the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP 15) in October. The Bonn Challenge – to restore 350mn hectares of degraded ecosystems by 2030 – also has an important role to bring about action in the short term, but not a single member state has provided a pledge here yet. 

The EU will also have to multiply its support to developing countries

As always, the buck stops where the money stops. The EU will have to increase the mobilisation of private and public funding for NbS considerably, while the new sustainable finance regulation should fully embrace the investments in nature and immediately halt biodiversity-harming subsidies. Bringing the EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAPin line with the Green Deal is a clear credibility test for the EU and we still need to see this happen. Moreover, natural capital accounting practices must be mainstreamed in the financial sector; this means applying economic tools to create a business case in which the dividends from investing in nature account for the benefits delivered by the ecosystems. The IUCN Global Standard on NbS offers great opportunities to create a level playing field for investing in and scaling up the necessary protection and restoration of nature, while providing social and economic benefits to society. NbS in Europe should be implemented according to this standard.  

Finally, the Green Deal will not be credible if the EU doesn’t sufficiently take into account its impact beyond its borders. The export of nature destruction goes against the very principles on which the green transition is built. Trade agreements need to reflect this; the ecological footprint of Europeans, which impacts nature in third countries, needs to be reduced drastically. To assure a global just transition, the EU will also have to multiply its support to developing countries to allow a fair share of natural capital to all. 

The dramatic events of 2020 have caused the unleashing of an unprecedented amount of funding to rebuild our societies. It is our duty towards this and future generations to put nature at the core of all sustainable finance efforts.

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