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Speech by Commissioner Vella: High-level Conference on Biodiversity & Ecosystem Services

May 24, 2019 |

Via EC AV Service.

This speech was originally published by European Commission

“Good afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen, and thank you to Professor Settele for sharing these findings. A tremendous piece of work, a fantastic example of the benefits of collaboration. With so many experts taking part, the picture you paint is chilling.

When we look at that picture, it’s easy to despair. Easy to say, the writing is on the wall. We’ve been weighed in the balance and found wanting.

But that won’t be my message today. I don’t believe in despair. I believe in action. There is still time, there are good models to follow, and we need to keep hope in our hearts.

We have many assets at our disposal.

At the Commission, I lead an immensely dedicated team. Over the course of this mandate, we have met brilliant colleagues from all walks of life.

National, regional and local authorities, conservation organisations and land managers.

Businesses of all sizes, researchers, and citizens all fighting to protect the biodiversity we love. It’s been an education, and an inspiration.

When the mandate began, I was tasked with steering an in-depth evaluation of the Nature directives. The public consultation attracted over half a million replies. This Commission reached one conclusion. The legal framework is solid, and as relevant as it ever was.

But there were problems to address. So we drew up an Action Plan to fix them. Two years later, it’s delivering on its promises. More than two thirds of the 114 measures have come to fruition.

We have updated Natura 2000 guidance documents in numerous areas, from hydropower and electricity transmission to conservation measures at sea. We have new action plans for habitats and species.

LIFE funding has increased by 10%. The Member States programming documents for EU investment – the Prioritized Action Frameworks – are being updated.

The plan is engaging stakeholders, encouraging a coherent approach to biodiversity, and building political ownership. Actions like Nature 2000 day are making citizens more aware than ever before of the benefits that nature brings.

Above and beyond that plan, Europe’s long-term Biodiversity Strategy is delivering results. Our knowledge of the value and condition of ecosystems across the EU is deeper than ever before.

We are working on tools to support the integration of ecosystem services into policies, planning decisions, and business investments. To get the natural benefits of forests, grasslands, lakes and all their bounty, we have to give protection.

The first-ever EU initiative on pollinators is swinging into action,   mobilising citizens and addressing the reasons behind the decline. We will soon have  a pollinator indicator  integrated into agriculture performance and monitoring.

We have effective legislation to tackle Invasive Alien Species, and implementation continues to advance, with a fresh update to the Union list.

We have developed biodiversity partnerships in Overseas Territories and the Outermost Regions, which are home to one fifth of the world’s coral reefs.

And in our cities w are promoting green infrastructure so that well-connected biodiversity-rich habitats deliver multiple benefits, improving quality of life.

And we are working in tandem with business, building an understanding of their reliance on natural capital.

These efforts are bringing results.

Some emblematic species, including birds and large carnivores, are making a spectacular recovery.

The terrestrial network for Natura 2000 is almost complete. There are conservation measures in place in three out of every four sites. In the last six years, the marine network has more than doubled. It now covers more than ten percent of EU seas, protecting marine ecosystems, and helping fish stocks to recover.

More and more cities are using green infrastructure to clean their water and their air. They are increasing resilience to climate change and natural disasters, and fostering social inclusion.

Stocks of fish and shellfish in the North-East Atlantic and the Baltic are improving, as a direct result of better management and lower pressure from fishing.

These successes are important. They keep hope alive. With commitment and financing, we can halt the loss. Restoration isn’t just a nice idea. It’s a real-world practice.

This afternoon and tomorrow, you will be sharing many further successes. Many causes for celebration.

We need to hold on to that feeling of hope, because the challenges ahead are tough.

The IPBES message confirms what we already know. We are not on track to reach our targets. The pressures are enormous, and they continue to grow.

The problem, quite simply, is the way that we live. The way we produce, the way we consume, the way that we trade.

What will it take to change?

When will we stop giving to the environment with one hand, and taking away with the other?

In Europe we have robust nature legislation. And we have Member States hunting species that are in decline. We have stringent, long-standing rules to protect our waters, and we have persistent problems with nitrate pollution. We have a growing awareness of the need to protect biodiversity, and we have an agricultural lobby forever set on greater intensification.

What will it take to change?

The newspapers are reporting the research that one million species are on the verge of extinction – sometimes on the front page. The latest Eurobarometer puts environment amongst the top five concerns of EU citizens – even above unemployment!

These changes are already here. An overwhelming majority of citizens now value biodiversity, and they understand its importance like never before. They want us to act, and do more for nature. It’s our job to answer that call.

Citizens are pressuring governments to protect pollinators, to make energy more sustainable and act on climate change. Local, regional and national governments are taking initiatives and leading the way.

They need our support, and it is reassuring that for the first time I can recall, nature and climate change are at the center of European election debate.

We see farmers, foresters and land managers heeding this call. They are the guardians of most of our land, and of assets that support life across the EU.

They shouldn’t bear a burden for that. National policies and EU policies should be doing far more for sustainable land management, and for efforts to safeguard the services we rely on.

We need to give more support. We need to be more bold in numerous ways.

Harmful subsidies must become a thing of past. The only farming and fishing activities to receive support should be fully compatible with biodiversity protection.

It’s time to favour practices that produce healthy food without poisoning insects, without destroying landscapes, or damaging healthy soils.

In a switch to more sustainable farming, eco-schemes could take pride of place.

So when I see the Environment and the Agriculture Committees at the Parliament proposing to earmark substantial funds for that, I take it as a sign of hope.

European consumers are setting new trends  through their choices for more sustainable diets. They are  demanding transparency from producers about impacts on biodiversity. And Businesses are responding with tools to assess their dependence on nature.

We need to think big. We need green and blue infrastructure, embedded in an EU framework, and built around Natura 2000. With targets for cities, the countryside and the seas. Transport has TEN-T, energy has TEN-E. Environment should have its TEN-G!

We need environmental protection and climate action at the top of the Commission agenda.

We need them at the heart of the next financial framework, acknowledged as essential in EU programmes and funds.

Nature protection cannot stop at the borders of Natura 2000 sites. This is why the forthcoming guidance on ecosystem services is so important. It will provide a means to broaden perspective in how nature is valued in everyday decision-making. As the science evolves, I could see this guidance transforming into a more robust framework to apply to all – from local to global!

We need to do this work at home, with higher ambition and stronger commitment, to maintain our international credibility –  because the battle for biodiversity is battle to be played  on the global stage.

We have the knowledge, and the experience to make a difference. More importantly, we have an internal market of 500 million citizens with an economic power and capacity to define the next global agreement at COP15 in China next year. It will fall to us to step up environmental diplomacy, and build the coalitions beyond environmental silos.

Coalitions are needed to ensure that nature’s necessity becomes the instinctive reaction for policymakers  in the key sectors of agriculture, development cooperation, trade and the economic policy.

I want to see visible targets. The scientific debate may be complex, but the objective should be simple: One million extinctions is one million too many. We need to respond to that demand. And we need to do so visibly using aid wisely, and giving rescue efforts the best chance of success.

Business and the private sector are answering the call. The Business and Biodiversity platform is promoting exchanges, helping companies measure their footprint, and giving nature a place at the boardroom table. Let’s sponsor that good energy!

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As that documentary reminds us, one planet is all we have. It’s fragile and threatened, but fabulous too. Let’s channel that emotion, and ride on that wave. One planet – our treasure. Let’s give it hope – and the protection it needs.

Thank you.”

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