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GYBN Europe+’s Response to the EU Biodiversity Strategy

The European regional chapter of the Global Youth Biodiversity Network (GYBN Europe+) welcomes the EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2030, released on the 20th May 2020. The youth within our network are generally satisfied with the attempt to create clear ambitious targets and supporting international movements, for example potential CBD post-2020 framework targets such as protecting 30% of oceans by 2030. We, as GYBN Europe+, appreciate the EU’s honesty when speaking about the failures to meet and implement the 2020 Aichi Biodiversity Targets. We are encouraged by their willingness to learn from past mistakes and do better in the future especially when it comes to improving implementation, management and accountability. We are interested to see how the EU Biodiversity Strategy is implemented together with the CAP, MFF and EU recovery fund.


We welcome the ambitious goals of the EU Restoration Plan. As the youth, we are convinced that restoring habitats back to health is one of the most effective ways to tackle both climate change and biodiversity loss, while providing space for people to reconnect with their surrounding environment. Ecological restoration is an area that has the potential to provide many new, meaningful jobs which can support our society, economy and the environment.


We fully support the inclusion of various sectors, such as the economic sector, with regards to biodiversity conservation integration, as well as the focus on urban greening and the inclusion of nature within cities. This shows a clear progression to a world view of a complex and interdependent system. However, we hope for even further improvements when it comes to accepting humans and our society as a part of nature and not as separate entities. Our vision is a world where humans live in harmony with nature in all aspects of our society.


A factor that contributed to past failure to create effective protected areas was the lack of inclusion of all stakeholders and relevant actors in decision making processes. This includes the youth, indigenous people and local communities. The youth have a voice that is yearning to be heard as well as passion, knowledge and skills to help create a more socially and environmentally just future. We believe that including youth will have a positive impact on the quality of the outcomes of this strategy, but we are also convinced that it is our right to have a voice in a matter that strongly impacts our present and futures.


Despite the promising progress that can be made by implementing this new EU Biodiversity Strategy, GYBN Europe+ highlights the following points as areas which need further improvement:


YOUTH: GYBN Europe+ raises the concern that the word “youth” is only mentioned once in the whole document (section 4.1) unlike the post-COVID-19 regeneration plan which incorporated intergenerational equity and the fair distribution of resources across generations as a central theme. The upcoming generations are the ones that will experience the most damaging impacts of the biodiversity crisis. It is crucial that all governments and institutions recognise the importance of including youth at all european, national and local levels in the implementation and monitoring of the EU Biodiversity Strategy and that we will need paying jobs in the environmental sector in order to ensure stability. For this we need governments and institutions to rethink their budget allocations and prioritise environmental work, much of which is currently done by volunteers or workers who earn less than a living wage (the youth often fall into this category). Additionally, environmental jobs should be inclusive and accessible for all, especially for young professionals and those from marginalised groups or low-income backgrounds. Safety: An important topic missing from the EU Biodiversity Strategy is the safety of environmental defenders, whistleblowers, and field agents who are monitoring human activities within nature. Positions such as rangers, or fisheries observers are often entry level jobs for young people wanting to enter the environmental sector or local individuals wanting to contribute to the protection of the environment they have a connection to. These jobs are often dangerous, with many cases of abuse, injury and even death. We need governments and institutions to develop stronger mechanisms to protect these parties, and their human rights, through legal initiatives, provide funding for safety equipment and increased staff to minimize the risks as much as possible.


Environmental Education: In order to form a society of informed, aware and active citizens we agree that environmental education is a critical approach to create awareness, enable discussion and inspire change. This EU Biodiversity Strategy acknowledges the importance of this environmental education across all learning institutions (section 3.3.4). However, we still need governments and institutions to set clear and specific targets which are measurable and for which they can be held accountable.


Consumption Footprint: The issue of overconsumption, overproduction, overexploitation and resource waste is not addressed in the EU Biodiversity Strategy, despite being an indirect driver of biodiversity loss globally. We need governments and institutions to address these issues from a multidisciplinary angle by aligning targets between the Circular Economy Strategy, the EU Biodiversity Strategy, and future policies.


Outsourcing exploitation: While the EU Biodiversity Strategy can only be implemented within the European Union member states, it could result in a relocation of the EU’s environmental impacts to the Global South. We need governments and institutions to implement legally strong environmental criteria in all current and future trade agreements (not just biofuels, section 2.2.5). Only this will ensure that the EU stays in line with their principle of "do no harm" as stated in the EU Biodiversity Strategy (section 1).


Strict protection: “Strict protection” is a core concept to the EU Biodiversity Strategy, yet it is still undefined. Additionally, the strategy does not acknowledge the diversity of conservation practices that could contribute to reaching international biodiversity targets other than protected areas. This decreases the credibility of the strategy and fosters fear that the future definition will be another version of outdated and non-inclusive concepts such as fortress conservation. The definition of “strict protection” should come with promises of context specificity, transdisciplinary scientific, traditional knowledge counseling, and inclusion of indigenous people and local communities to ensure we respect human rights and reduce further alienation between humans and nature. We need governments and institutions to keep nature accessible to IPLC and ensure the youth have access to their cultural identities, areas and practices.


Economy: We welcome section 3.3.1. on Business for Biodiversity as it recognises the need to address current business models and the support needed to steer the economic sector onto a path of sustainability rather than exploitation. We eagerly await a European Business for Biodiversity movement that is ambitious and expedites a transition into a circular economy. We need governments and institutions to incorporate a new economic model that accounts for social and environmental equality and wellbeing. As the youth we want to contribute to the economy but not to an economy that continues to exploit the environment and people with dire consequences for future generations.


Subsidies: While the EU's ambitions on global agreements on harmful subsidies are briefly mentioned (points 4.2.1 and 4.2.3), there is still a lack of concrete targets for eliminating and phasing out environmentally harmful subsidies within the EU and its member states. Similarly, there is too little mentioned on positive subsidies that can make sustainable alternatives more accessible to lower-income groups within our society. We need governments and institutions to reallocate their subsidies and build a system which encourages long-term sustainability, rather than short-term gains at the expense of the environment and future generations.


Legally binding: The EU Biodiversity Strategy is a positive and hopeful step forward but we need the EU to set legally binding targets in all areas where it is able to do so, and for cases where it is not able to, to incentivise member states in achieving their targets. The youth are losing faith in political institutions because of a history of empty promises and ambiguity. We need governments and institutions to transform into a more transparent system with clear targets, clear regulations and clear accountability structures in place.


Conclusion:

The EU Biodiversity strategy is an ambitious long-term plan for protecting nature and reversing the degradation of ecosystems. We, the Global Youth Biodiversity Network of Europe+ see it as our duty to demand more substantial commitments and will hold the European Union accountable to its goals and promises laid out in the EU Biodiversity Strategy and their impact on biodiversity at a global level.

As the youth, we will remain attentive to make sure that the progressive ideas developed in this new EU Biodiversity Strategy are implemented in a fair, inclusive, transparent and diligent way. We are eager to participate as representative youth delegates on national, EU and international levels and will be engaging with governments to make this a reality across Europe.


The youth of today are the professionals, workforce and leaders of tomorrow and will raise the next generation in a world full of consequences. GYBN Europe+ wants to provide future generations with the best fighting chance for a resilient, equitable and sustainable world.



Acronyms: CBD = United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity CAP = Common Agricultural Policy of the European Union

MFF = Multiannual Financial Framework

IPLC = Indigenous People and Local Communities


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