Image credit: Ryan Graybill on Unsplash, 2017

Key messages

  • Biodiversity plays an important role in regulating the climate, thus making a key contribution to climate change mitigation and adaptation. At the same time, climate change affects ecosystem dynamics and the distribution and abundance of species and habitats. Therefore, biodiversity conservation and climate action are intrinsically linked.
  • Ecosystem-based approaches can help to prevent climate change impacts on economic sectors. The focus here, however, is on reducing the vulnerability of biodiversity and ecosystems themselves. This can be achieved through, for example, habitat and species management, hydrological measures and enhancing the ecological infrastructure to increase robustness of local populations and habitats.
  • The EU policy framework, including the Biodiversity Strategy, 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 and ecosystem conservation and restoration.


Impacts and vulnerabilities

Climate change affects 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 and vulnerable to local extinction. In addition, invasive species and new diseases may further erode the native biodiversity.

Conserving and restoring ecosystems, for example by restoring peatlands and natural hydrological conditions in river basins, is not only beneficial for biodiversity itself, but is 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.

The Commission will put forward a proposal for legally binding EU nature restoration targets in 2021 to ensure that nature restoration across land and sea picks up, increases the EU’s resilience, and contributes to climate change mitigation and adaptation as a key nature-based solution.

In 2013 the EU adopted a Strategy on Green Infrastructure with a direct reference to the EU Strategy on Adaptation to Climate Change to converge actions on green infrastructure, ecosystem-based approaches to 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.  Nature-based Solutions are recognized as a key instrument to mobilize the joint biodiversity-climate agenda.

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.

Comprehensive data and information on biodiversity in the EU can be found on the Biodiversity Information System for Europe (BISE), but so far has no direct links to climate change adaption.


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.