• Landmark Conservation Agreement Faces Challenge in European Parliament

Environmental Laboratory

Landmark Conservation Agreement Faces Challenge in European Parliament

May 25 2023

As member states struggle to reach a consensus on nature restoration, the European Union’s Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, Virginijus Sinkevičius, issued a public warning that the failure to come to a settlement might suggest that one of the world’s most powerful institutions lacks commitment at a crucial moment for preservation. Resistance is coming from a variety of quarters, including agriculture, fishing, and forestry interests, all of whom worry about the stringency of the protections. 

In June of last year, the European Commission unveiled its intention to restore biodiversity across the continent by securing legal protections and budget allocations for rewilding projects in member-states. As one front in this new offensive, a Bill was then introduced to the European Parliament to significantly curtail the use of pesticides. From the perspective of environmentalists, these were impressive lines in the sand: the European Union were on their side in the fight against extinction and homogenisation.  

Others, however, were not so happy. For most opponents, there sticking points are two-fold: the enshrining of designated restoration-zones and the severity of the reduction in pesticide usage. Most significantly, the most substantial faction in the European parliament, the European People’s Party (EPP), has publicly demanded abandoning the Commission’s pledges in solidarity with certain farming communities and out of concern that such initiatives could compromise climate pledges by restricting space for green projects and drawing red lines around resources that might otherwise have become alternative fuels.  

Speaking to the Guardian, Sinkevičius expressed concern over such resistance. Firstly, the Commissioner believes that it is pretty much now or never for biodiversity in Europe. Secondly, he countered climate qualms with an assertion that the Green Deal's objectives might well prove pointless if certain ecosystems – like forests, soils, and marine environments – are to degrade. Without this legislation, he believes that such degradation is inevitable, and that even highly advanced, straight-out-of-science-fiction tech would not be capable of making up for the loss of these natural carbon sinks and heat managers.  

Recent research into the causes of bio-homogeneity in Europe found a correlation between the use of chemical pesticides and the declining number of bird species on the continent, studying the relevant data for 28 different countries over a 37-year timeframe. The headlines: common bird species have declined by a quarter across the board, with the number of farmland species being sliced in half – an unmistakable sign that pesticides are to blame. In its conclusion, the authors of the study were keen to recommend the experience of British farmers in successfully implementing sustainable farming practices without degrading the health of their produce or their bottom line, only possible with the help of targeted government funds.  

Clearly, then, the stakes are high. But with European elections on the horizon, time is running out for the Commission's proposals. Commissioner Sinkevičius, however, remains hopeful. Last year, delegates from the European Union, including Sinkevičius, were decisive in getting the so-called ‘30x30’ pledge into the final document of the United Nations’ Biodiversity Conference, or COP15, an ambitious pledge to comprehensively safeguarding 30% of the planet’s remaining wildlife by 2030. To the Guardian, the Commissioner expressed that striking this balance between the 27 states in attendance was more than a little challenging. But in the end, the job got done.  

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