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Image credit: Ryan Graybill on Unsplash, 2017

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 biodiversity in multiple ways through complex interactions among and between species and their habitats.  Therefore it is impossible to address biodiversity loss without addressing climate change, but it is equally impossible to tackle climate change without addressing biodiversity loss.


Conserving and restoring (e.g. river) ecosystems and at the same time reducing impacts of climate change on society (e.g. flooding) is possible by using ecosystem-based adaptation approaches. They can provide both responses to climate change challenges and sustain ecosystem functions in the long term, often bringing multiple benefits at comparatively low cost.


Policy Framework 

The EU has established a wordwide unique network of protected areas, the Natura 2000 network. This milestone of EU nature policy was established through the Birds Directive and the Habitats Directive. In 2012, the EU adopted the EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2020 that sets out a long-term EU vision on biodiversity policy (2050) and agreed a range of mid-term 2020 targets and actions, also addressing climate change. In 2013 the EU adopted a Strategy on Green Infrastructure 'to promote the deployment of green infrastructure in the EU in urban and rural areas', 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.

In 2015, the European Commission published the mid-term review of the EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2020, which describes progress made in implementing the actions and achieving the targets set out in the strategy. The report demonstrates that action on the ground, supported by adequate financing, can protect and restore nature and the benefits it provides.

Also in 2015, the European Commission published ‘The State of Nature in the European Union', reporting on the status of and trends for habitat types and species covered by the Birds and Habitats Directives. As a contribution to policy discussions in the context of the EU 2020 Biodiversity Strategy, the EEA published a report on the state of nature in the EU in 2015, and various relevant SOER2015 briefings (BiodiversityBiodiversity - protected areas).

To consider climate change adaptation strategies in EU biodiversity policy, several recommendations for policy adjustments have been made including legal enforcement of connectivity requirements and the implementation of adaptive management plans for each Special Area of Conservation (SAC) of the Natura 2000 network. Guidelines for dealing with climate change in the management of Natura 2000 sites were developed in 2013 by the European Commission 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.

Green infrastructure also contributes to the coherence of the Natura 2000 network by improving landscape permeability and thus adding to the resilience of ecological networks to climate change. 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. Synergies can be used with other land uses and functions, such as agriculture, forestry and water management.

The loss of organic soil matter and soil biodiversity also contributes to a decreasing resilience of ecosystems to climate change and is dealt with in the Thematic Strategy for Soil Protection, including a ten-year work programme for the European Commission.

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 increase 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. Therefore other EU legislation are relevant for Biodiversity including the Water Framework Directive, the Marine Strategy Framework Directive, the Common Agricultural Policy and the Common Fisheries Policy.


Improving the knowledge base

The IPCC special report on global warming of 1.5 °C has assessed impacts on biodiversity and ecosystems associated to 1.5°C versus a 2°C warmer world, as well as a range of adaptation options available to reduce the risks.

Activities have been carried out in order to improve the understanding of biodiversity vulnerability to climate change at EU and regional levels.

Comprehensive data and information on biodiversity in the EU can be found on the Biodiversity Information System for Europe (BISE). The Biodiversity data centre (BDC) and the European Nature Information System (EUNIS) provide access to biodiversity data and information on species, habitat types and protected areas, which is relevant to EU biodiversity policy and legislation.  Work is also being carried out by the EU Member States, with assistance of the European Commission, to map and assess ecosystems and their services (MAES). in their national territory, assess their economic value, and promote the integration of these values into accounting and reporting systems at EU and national level as part of the EU 2020 Biodiversity Strategy. The first version of a European ecosystem map is available in the MAES digital atlas. This spatial ecosystem mapping is based on the European habitat classification (EUNIS) using available land cover data.

DG Environment published various studies that can be used as a methodological basis for further work on adaptation, e.g. on the inter-relationship between soil and climate change and on soil biodiversity. The EEA SOER 2015 European briefings and the global soil biodiversity atlas review various aspects of soil conditions in the EU, including the role of climate change.

Several research projects supported by the Framework Programmes for Research and Technological Development or Horizon 2020 and other EU programmes (e.g. Interreg program) have increased knowledge on biodiversity vulnerability and adaptation (for example MACISBRANCHATEAMEcologicHabit-change, MIRACLE, BIO-C3, BAMBI, ATLAS,GEOLAND or MPA-ADAPT).  The EU´s Research and Innovation programme Horizon 2020 work plan for 2018-2020 for Climate action, environment, resource efficiency and raw materials includes actions on the Inter-relations between climate change, biodiversity and ecosystem services (LC-CLA-06.2019). Research on biodiversity is also supported through the BiodivERsA ERA-Net, which works to coordinate national research programmes on biodiversity across Europe and to organize international funding for research projects in this field on a competitive basis.


Supporting investment and funding

Several EU-level funds and instruments provide significant financial support for conserving biodiversity and can support the implementation of the Birds and Habitats Directives also covering climate change aspects: the LIFE programme and its grants and the financing instrument the Natural Capital Financing Facility, the European Structural Investment Funds (ESIF), notably the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF), and Horizon 2020


Image Copyright: Daniel Danko, Environment & Me/ EEA

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