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Biodiversity

Image credit: Ryan Graybill on Unsplash, 2017

Key messages

  • Biodiversity conservation and climate action are intrinsically linked: Biodiversity plays an important role in regulating the climate, yet at the same time, climate change affects all species and their habitats. Climate change impacts ecosystem dynamics and the suitability of habitats to biodiversity.
  • Ecosystem-based approaches can help to reduce the vulnerability of biodiversity, and ecosystems economic sectors can acknowledge and adapt to climate change by adopting an ecosystem-based approach. This can be achieved through, for habitat and species management, land-use adaptation and water management measures, which enhance the ecological infrastructure and increase robustness of local populations and habitats.
  • The EU policy framework, including the Biodiversity Strategy, Birds and Habitats directives, Natura 2000, the Green Infrastructure Strategy, and the EU Regulation on Invasive Species, provides for this, with associated measures under sectoral policies (e.g., the Common Agricultural Policy and Common Fisheries Policy). Substantial investments are made in knowledge development to support biodiversity, and restore or preserve healthy and ecosystems.

Impacts and vulnerabilities

Climate change affects biotic and abiotic factors that determine plant growth conditions, vegetation structure and composition, and the distribution and abundance of species and their interactions. Habitats may change or disappear, and populations of species may become increasingly isolated or vulnerable to extinction. In addition, invasive species and new diseases may further erode the native biodiversity. Even native pests can become a greater threat with milder winters or changes in season lengths.

Conserving and restoring ecosystems, for example by restoring peatlands or natural conditions in river basins, is not only beneficial for biodiversity itself, but also instrumental to reduce impacts of climate change on society (e.g. flooding).

 

Policy framework

The EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2030, adopted in 2020 in the context of the European Green Deal, sets EU biodiversity on a path to recovery, recognising that the biodiversity loss and climate crises are interrelated and require coordinated action. These linkages are also strongly acknowledged in the EU Adaptation Strategy, another essential component of the European Green Deal through the scaling up of Nature-based Solutions. Nature-based Solutions are seen as a key mechanism for tackling the dual crisis of biodiversity loss and climate change, as well as for the potential in providing benefits to nature, society and the economy.

EU policy acknowledges the critical role that green and blue landscape elements play in climate change adaptation, with the Natura 2000 network, established under the EU Birds and Habitats Directives, constituting a unique backbone of protected areas. Guidelines for dealing with climate change in the management of Natura 2000 sites were developed in 2013 to facilitate site management and decision making at local and regional levels. The guidelines specify the need to move from a static conservation perspective to an adaptive management approach, which involves the consideration of potential climate impacts and the design of management actions that take those impacts into account.

On June 22, 2022 the Commission adopted the proposal for the legally binding Nature Restoration Law. This is to ensure resilient  ecosystems, habitats and species in the face of climate change threats, contribute to climate mitigation and adaptation as a key Nature-based Solution.

The EU Strategy on Green Infrastructure makes a direct reference to the EU Strategy on Adaptation to Climate Change through actions on green infrastructure, ecosystem-based approaches to encourage adaptation and disaster risk reduction. The concept of Green Infrastructure describes ecological networks in their wider context (beyond protected areas) and emphasizes the importance of maintaining and restoring the provision of ecosystem goods and services for society and the value of multi-functional ecosystems. Green infrastructure also contributes to the coherence of the Natura 2000 network by improving landscape permeability. It creates ecological networks that can help improve future ecological resilience because the green corridors allow species to shift their ranges in response to climate change.

Invasive alien species represent one of the primary threats to biodiversity and ecosystem services, especially in geographically and evolutionary isolated ecosystems, such as small islands. Among other factors, climate change increases the risk of (new) invasive species distribution, particularly thermophilic species. This is addressed in the EU Regulation on Invasive Species.

Particularly with regard to ecosystem services, there are synergies with other sectors. The EU Farm-to-Fork Strategy explicitly links the food supply chain with biodiversity and climate. In addition, the Water Framework Directive, the Marine Strategy Framework Directive, the Common Agricultural Policy and the Common Fisheries Policy all have sector approaches for addressing co-benefits related to biodiversity and climate.

 

Improving the knowledge base

Climate, biodiversity and ecosystems are seen as interdependent in the IPCC AR6 WG II report Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Biodiversity has a limited capacity to adapt to the projected changes in climate (as predicted in the IPCC Special Report on global warming of 1.5°C). Therefore, supporting the resilience of biodiversity to climate change is essential to maintain ecosystem functioning. The impacts of climate change can only be effectively reduced through the conservation (or re-establishment of) biodiversity on 30-50% of the Earth’s land freshwater and ocean areas. Safeguarding or re-establishing biodiversity creates a buffer which reduces impacts and decreases our vulnerability to increasingly extreme climate events.

A collaboration between the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has been launched to address the joint biodiversity-climate agenda. The first workshop resulted in a Scientific Outcome, which outlines the linkages and leverage points in current governance and socio-ecological systems that can help to promote the shifts towards transformative governance for addressing the biodiversity-climate-society nexus.

The European Environmental Agency (EEA) published an indicator-based assessment of past and projected climate change and its impacts on ecosystems and society. In another EEA  report, Nature-based Solutions are recognized as a key instrument to mobilize the joint biodiversity-climate agenda. The ETC Inland Coastal and Marine Waters group published the Biodiversity in Europe’s seas, giving an overview of the state of the aquatic biodiversity including the impacts and trends due to climate change.

The Joint Research Centre has a Biodiversity Knowledge Centre to provide the scientific basis for the integration of EU biodiversity policies, including climate change. It published the first ever EU ecosystem assessment in July 2021 highlighting that climate change impacts on biodiversity are increasing. BiodiverCities is an EU pilot, recently launched, to improve civil society participation in planning decision-making with respect to urban biodiversity, the nature in and around cities.

Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S), which is implemented by the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts on behalf of the European Union, collects data to monitor the climate and predict how it will change in the future. This information can be used to investigate how exactly climate change will impact various sectors, landscapes and ecosystems.

Comprehensive data and information on biodiversity in the EU can be found on the Biodiversity Information System for Europe (BISE), with information on how biodiversity is impacted by climate change.

 

Supporting investment and funding

The EU’s multiannual financial framework (MFF) for 2021-27 amounts to €1.21 trillion with an additional €807 billion from the next generation EU recovery instrument. 30% of this budget is earmarked for activities contributing to climate objectives.

The EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 aims to unlock at least €20 billion a year for nature and ensure that a significant proportion of the 30% of the MFF dedicated to climate action is invested in biodiversity and nature-based solutions. It acknowledges the restoration of ecosystem types that are especially important carbon sinks, such as forests, peatlands, grasslands, wetlands, mangroves and seagrass meadows, and also acknowledges the role of restoring soils in this regard. It allows for a coherent Trans-European Nature Network under its protection pillar to enable species migration and climate adaptation.

 

Key EU instruments available to support adaptation are:

Research on biodiversity and adaptation is also supported through the BiodivERsA ERA-Net, which coordinates national research programmes on biodiversity across Europe.

Currently, the main driver of the recorded biodiversity spending in the EU budget is under the Common Agricultural Policy, and this is expected to continue. Important spending is also made under the European Regional Development Fund, Social Fund and Cohesion Fund. A comprehensive overview can be found on the EU funding of adaptation measures page.

 

MRE of adaptation

Key findings of the EEA State of Nature Report from 2020 include confirmation that climate change is a rising threat to biodiversity and that agricultural activities, land abandonment and pollution are major pressures to habitats and species. To understand the changes in Europe’s biodiversity over time, the European Union relies on data collected and reported in a consistent and comparable way. Every six years, EU Member States are required to report on the sizes of and trends in bird populations (Article 12 of the Birds Directive) and on the conservation status of and trends in targeted habitats and species (Article 17 of the Habitats Directive) within their European territories. To examine the synergies and trade-offs between biodiversity protection and climate change mitigation and adaptation, the organization of IPBES (Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services) and IPCC hosted a workshop in 2021. This a scientific report developed in the context of the important international agreements including the Paris Agreement, and sustainable development goals. This workshop explored the interaction between climate and biodiversity, from current trends to the role and implementation of nature-based solutions and the sustainable development of human society.