On 14 April we participated in a workshop entitled "The European Green Deal and Biodiversity", organized by the Hungarian Association of Nature Conservationists. The conference was hosted by the Pázmány Péter Catholic University.
The opening speech was delivered by Prof. Dr. Gyula Bándi, Professor at the Faculty of Law and Political Science of Pázmány Péter Catholic University, the advocate of the Future Generation, who summarized the most important passages of the UN and the European Union on biodiversity protection.
At the UN Conference on Biological Diversity in Montreal in 2022, the UN called the current decade the "Decade of Ecosystem Restoration". Environmental degradation and the disappearance of nature negatively affect the enjoyment of human rights and thus violate fundamental human rights, which include the right to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment. In the EU, there have been several conventions on biodiversity protection, the most recent being the EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2030, which was developed under the EU Green Deal, "Bringing Nature Back into Our Lives". The main tools to achieve the biodiversity strategy's goals are valuation beyond GDP, ecosystem approaches and green infrastructure development.
After the introduction, the first presentation was given by Levente Kőrösi, Head of the Biodiversity and Genetic Conservation Department of the Ministry of Agriculture, who spoke about the European Green Deal for Ecosystem Restoration, the EU Biodiversity Strategy "From Soil to Table" as a set of policy instruments.
The EU Biodiversity Strategy was published in 2020, with a strong emphasis on monitoring the development of the strategy, and mid-term reviews will take place in 2024 and 2026. Evaluations and the process of implementing the strategy are available and can be followed by everyone on the EU Biodiversity Strategy Dashboard at https://dopa.jrc.ec.europa.eu/kcbd/dashboard/.
The objectives of the strategy are the following:
- At least 30% of the EU land area should be protected - it applies to protected areas, 30% of the EU land area should be protected, currently 26% at the EU level, in Hungary 22% of the country is protected by national legislation and Natura 2000.
- Strict protection should be ensured for at least 1/3 of EU-protected areas, including all existing natural and old-growth forests (overall target: 10%, currently 3%)
- Effective management of existing protected areas - clear conservation targets and measures to be adopted, defined and monitored (to be adopted by 2024 - Hungary can meet this target)
- Habitats and species conservation status must not deteriorate and at least 30% of habitats must reach favourable conservation status or at least show improvement (see Eurostat Figure) - special attention to pollinators (new agreement on pollinators)
- New agreement on pollinators
- Use and risk of chemical pesticides reduced by 50% - new draft EU regulation on sustainable use of pesticides (ongoing negotiations)
- High biodiversity landscape elements on at least 10% of agricultural land
- At least 25% of agricultural land should be farmed organically (currently 6% in MO) and agro-ecological practices will become much more widespread (Austria is already at 25%)
- 3 billion new trees planted/planted in the EU in full respect of ecological principles - Commission guidance available
- Significant progress must be made in the restoration of contaminated land
- EU Soil Strategy 2021
- At least 25 000 km2 of rivers are restored to their natural functions
- Restoration of freshwater ecosystems
- elimination of longitudinal and transverse permeability elements
- Red List species threatened by alien invasive species are reduced by 50%
- Reduce nutrient losses from fertilisation by at least 50%, reduce fertiliser use by at least 20% (2023 EU Integrated Nutrient Management Action Plan)
- EU cities with at least 20,000 inhabitants should have a large-scale urban greening plan, with links between cities and with green spaces around cities and connected
A National Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 is in the process of being adopted but aligned with the global and European biodiversity strategies. The Constitutional Basis for Biodiversity Conservation and the Biodiversity Conservation Responsibilities of the Advocate for Future Generations was presented by Dr. Vera Gáspár Zentainé, Senior Senior Advisor to the Deputy Commissioner for the Protection of the Interests of Future Generations.
According to a UN report, by 2022, nearly 1 million species will become extinct in the near future due to human-induced damage such as
- unsustainable use of resources,
- conversion of nature,
- overuse, etc...
The biodiversity strategy aims to prevent this. The focus areas of the strategy are forests, soils, wetlands, and peatlands, as their restoration will increase the amount of land available for CO2 sequestration, which will contribute to achieving climate neutrality, while also increasing the survival of species. The presentation also mentioned the legal implications of the Nature Restoration Act and the European Green Deal.
In the next presentation, Dr. Iván Gyulai, President of the Ecological Institute for Sustainable Development and Director of the Institute, also known for his work on deep mulching, presented a dismal picture of the current state of biodiversity, the past actions, and the expected impacts of the current strategy. He also presented his proposals for solutions.
In 2002, Johannesburg set a target of 2010 for biodiversity loss, but figures show that the species richness of living aquatic vertebrates has declined by 83% in the decade (WWF Habitat Index survey). There are many reasons for this, Dr Iván Gyulai highlighted three in detail, new investment, transport, and arable farming. Any new investment produced by destroying natural resources adds to the existing burden unless it replaces the previous one. Thus, an investment will only be sustainable if the environmental pressure of the new investment is less than that of the previous one, but it also eliminates the previous investment
"The ultimate source of money is nature, so money destroys nature, so if the money supply increases, natural capital decreases!"
Renewable energy infrastructure at scale is a serious barrier to biodiversity conservation. Any form of biomass used for energy reduces the basis of the food chain - burning biomass, according to Iván Gyulai, cannot be "green".
In terms of transport, an electric car needs to travel 135 000 km to save 30% CO2 compared to a conventional internal combustion engine, so it may not be the best solution. Road traffic also causes many other problems, roads isolate habitats, which causes billions of living creatures to die on the roads every day. More than half of all species on earth are insects, yet they are the most endangered. In arable farming, soil rotation and fertilizer use, as well as pesticide application, are leading to mass mortality of species.
To protect biodiversity, the priority should be to stop soil rotation and to phase out fertilizers and pesticides completely. "The fundamental problem is that we are trying to protect conditions and not to restore processes!" A fitting quote from Herman Otto: "There is no harm in nature, only necessity.” According to Dr. Iván Gyulai, biodiversity strategies do not address the right issues, especially the most important one, the human factor. The only way to conserve nature is to leave it alone. A set of criteria must be developed for all land use, and subsidies that damage biodiversity and the public good must be removed.
Zsuzsa Ujj, of the Association of Hungarian Nature Conservationists, presented the context of the legislation on nature restoration. The background to the legislation is the unmet Aichi Biodiversity Targets, where 7 of the 20 biodiversity targets were met, with almost no practical targets being met. In addition, the current situation for species of Community importance and nature conservation sites is disappointing.
ONE HEALTH is a holistic approach that considers both human well-being and the state of biodiversity.
The Biodiversity Hypothesis: explains how biodiversity loss affects human health. Research has shown that it not only affects mental health but can also lead to the development of serious diseases. A 2015 study in New Zealand found that a more biodiverse environment reduced the risk of leukaemia by 35%. This can be explained, among other things, by the fact that a more biodiverse environment can also trench the immune system, making it more resistant.
The links between biodiversity and human health are also observed in nature, for example, the depopulation of wild boar by predators, wolves, results in a healthier wild population than 'artificial' hunting. Wolves are more efficient than humans at selecting and killing diseased individuals. Insects were also emphasized in this presentation, as they provide important 'services' to the ecosystem, but these are often only noticed when there are no longer enough insects to perform these tasks.
The value of the benefits of restoring nature: €1,860 billion, compared to an estimated cost of restoration of €154 billion. The cost of inaction: €1,700 billion. This shows that restoring nature is worthwhile, there are financial interests involved, the primary problem is who will pay for that cost and on the other hand who will benefit from the €1,860 billion.
The question of the fairness of the financial flows is a dubious one, according to Oxfam the richest 10% of the population is responsible for 49% of CO2 emissions, and the poorest 50% for 10%.
The Restoring Nature 2030-2050 roadmap was presented by Örs Marczin, from the Conservation Department of the Ministry of Agriculture.
The technical focus of the agenda is on the following topics:
- Species and habitats of Community importance
- Urban, municipal ecosystems (urban green spaces and canopy cover)
- Urban communities and habitats)
- Pollinating insects
- Agricultural ecosystems
- Forest ecosystems
He highlighted three possible measures for nature restoration, the first being classical habitat reconstruction, the second being semi-natural management and the third passive reconstruction. The conservation objectives of the Agenda focus on the restoration and creation of community habitats and species habitats, these objectives are effort-centred and not outcome-centred. Current practice needs to change, 10x as much funding will need to be invested and at least 3x as much land restored to achieve the 2030 targets. The Regulation provides a planning tool for Member States, but also requires the development of a national recovery plan with measures, a timetable, an assessment of resource needs, a mapping of areas to be restored and a monitoring plan. A first report with the results will be due to Member States in June 2031.
Ágnes Tahyné Kovács, Associate Professor at Pázmány Péter University, presented the legal aspects of the recovery plan. The novelty of the legislation is that previously there were only voluntary commitments in the Biodiversity Strategy, the EU Restoration Law now sets out concrete, accountable obligations for Member States, with data and deadlines. Member States are directly obliged to develop and monitor a national action plan and are also required to report. In addition, public participation in nature restoration is also a priority.
The draft regulation calls for urgent action and sets measurable and monitorable specific targets. Monitoring will allow for feedback, which could lead to methodological changes at a later stage, thus making the legislative process even more effective.
The national recovery plan will have 2 years from the date of entry into force. Monitoring data will be made public immediately.
Written by: Nora Bodor