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EU reveals biodiversity and food strategies, placing sustainability at the heart of Covid-19 recovery

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The European Commission on May 20 formally launched its comprehensive new biodiversity strategy to bring nature back into our lives, as well as its much-heralded Farm to Fork Strategy for a fair, healthy and environmentally friendly food system. The Commission claims that the two strategies are mutually reinforcing, bringing together nature, farmers, business and consumers for jointly working towards a competitively sustainable future.

In line with the European Green Deal, the two strategies propose ambitious EU actions and commitments to halt biodiversity loss both in Europe and worldwide, the transformation of our food systems into global standards for competitive sustainability, the protection of human and planetary health, as well as the livelihoods of all actors in the food value chain.

The Commission believes that the Covid-19 crisis has demonstrated how vulnerable the increasing biodiversity loss makes us and how crucial a well-functioning food system is for society. The two strategies put the citizen at the centre, by committing to increase the protection of land and sea, restoring degraded ecosystems and establishing the EU as a leader on the international stage both on the protection of biodiversity and on building a sustainable food chain.

“The coronavirus crisis has shown how vulnerable we all are, and how important it is to restore the balance between human activity and nature,” says European Commission Executive Vice-President for the European Green Deal Frans Timmermans. “Climate change and biodiversity loss are a clear and present danger to humanity. At the heart of the Green Deal the biodiversity and Farm to Fork strategies point to a new and better balance of nature, food systems and biodiversity; to protect our people’s health and well-being, and at the same time to increase the EU’s competitiveness and resilience. These strategies are a crucial part of the great transition we are embarking upon.”

The new biodiversity strategy tackles the key drivers of biodiversity loss, such as unsustainable use of land and sea, overexploitation of natural resources, pollution, and invasive alien species. Adopted in the heart of the Covid-19 pandemic, the strategy is a central element of the EU’s recovery plan, crucial to preventing and building resilience to future outbreaks and providing immediate business and investment opportunities for restoring the EU’s economy. It also aims to make biodiversity considerations an integral part of EU’s overall economic growth strategy.

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The strategy proposes to, amongst much else, establish binding targets to restore damaged ecosystems and rivers, improve the health of EU protected habitats and species, bring back pollinators to agricultural land, reduce pollution, green cities, enhance organic farming and other biodiversity-friendly farming practices, and improve the health of European forests. The strategy brings forward concrete steps to put Europe’s biodiversity on the path to recovery by 2030, including transforming at least 30 per cent of Europe’s lands and seas into effectively managed protected areas and bringing back at least 10 per cent of agricultural area under high-diversity landscape features.

The actions foreseen in nature protection, sustainable use and restoration will bring economic benefits to local communities, creating sustainable jobs and growth. Funding of 20 billion euros per year will be unlocked for biodiversity through various sources, including EU funds, national and private funding.

Oceana, an ocean conservation organisation, has welcomed the strategy, claiming that it will bring “vast benefits”.

“The global response to the Covid-19 pandemic shows that governments and society have the capacity to act swiftly and decisively in the face of clear scientific evidence of serious threats to our well-being,” says Oceana in Europe Senior Advocacy Director Vera Coelho. “Such determined action is also needed to safeguard our ocean and deliver more resilient seas. Importantly we need to make sure our policy response to the pandemic avoids exacerbating the pre-existing climate and nature crises to ensure we ‘build back better’ as a society.”

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) also responded positively, saying that strategy can guide countries in Central and Eastern Europe in designing sustainable investment measures to recover from the current crisis.

“The biodiversity strategy spells out what WWF deeply believes in: that nature protection and restoration will only lead to lasting positive change if it is planned and implemented with genuine participation across society, with the active involvement of citizens, NGOs, businesses, social partners and the research community,” says Irene Lucius, regional conservation director at WWF Central and Eastern Europe.

The Farm to Fork Strategy meanwhile will enable the transition to a sustainable EU food system that safeguards food security and ensures access to healthy diets sourced from a healthy planet. It will reduce the environmental and climate footprint of the EU food system and strengthen its resilience, protecting citizens’ health and ensuring the livelihoods of economic operators. The strategy sets concrete targets to transform the EUs food system, including a reduction by 50 per cent of the use and risk of pesticides, a reduction by at least 20 per cent of the use of fertilizers, a reduction by 50 per cent in sales of antimicrobials used for farmed animals and aquaculture, and reaching 25 per cent of agricultural land under organic farming. It also proposes ambitious measures to ensure that the healthy option is the easiest for EU citizens, including improved labelling to better meet consumers’ information needs on healthy, sustainable foods.

“We must move forward and make the EU’s food system a driving force for sustainability,” says Stella Kyriakides, European Commissioner for Health and Food. “The Farm to Fork Strategy will make a positive difference across the board in how we produce, buy and consume our food that will benefit the health of our citizens, societies and the environment. It offers the opportunity to reconcile our food systems with our planet’s health, to ensure food security and meet the aspirations of Europeans for healthy, equitable and eco-friendly food.”

As core parts of the European Green Deal, the Commission believes that the two strategies will also support the economic recovery. In the coronavirus context, they aim to strengthen resilience to future pandemics and threats such as climate impacts, forest fires, food insecurity or disease outbreaks, including by supporting more sustainable practices for agriculture, fisheries and aquaculture and by addressing wildlife protection and illegal wildlife trade.

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