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Biodiversity must be a key plank of the European Green Deal ǀ View

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What is the EU commitment to fight wildlife trafficking and protect biodiversity in its new strategy for a sustainable Europe? After a thorough read-through of the European Green Deal, one would have to conclude that this is still unclear.

The Green Deal presented to the European Parliament last week includes legislation to meet the EU’s 2050 climate neutrality target, as well as a strategy on the protection of biodiversity and developing the circular economy and rural areas across the EU. The deal also represents a great opportunity to deliver on farm animal welfare and wildlife protection.

EU efforts to prevent global biodiversity loss by 2020, as required by the current EU Biodiversity Strategy, have so far failed. Still, actions to combat the illegal wildlife trade and ensure biodiversity are not sufficiently integrated into the European Green Deal. The Green Deal must tackle this issue, since the exploitation of animals and plants is a key driver of biodiversity decline, as identified by the 2019 Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) Global Assessment Report.

Both the legal and illegal trade of endangered species, including tigers and elephants, should be a central element of the new 2030 EU Biodiversity Strategy. The EU Action Plan against Wildlife Trafficking (EU WTAP) from 2016 can serve as a blueprint for effective prevention and enforcement. Running until 2020, this Action Plan must be renewed and strengthened so that it can become a key component of the European Green Deal.

Few efforts have been undertaken so far to decrease the EU’s contribution to both the illegal trade in species that are protected in their country of origin as well as the introduction of invasive alien species through the exotic pet trade, both of which bring significant economic and environmental costs.
Raquel García-van der Walle (AAP Animal Advocacy and Protection), Ilaria di Silvestre (Eurogroup for Animals)

The lack of appropriate EU regulations on the keeping, breeding, and selling of exotic pets is another issue that could result in severe welfare problems, be detrimental to biodiversity, and negatively impact public health and the health of other animals.

Analyses in Europe have shown a dramatic increase in invasions by alien species since the start of the twentieth century. The pet trade is recognised by the Bern Convention and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) as one of the main pathways of this invasion. Attempts by the pet trade to self-regulate have comprehensively failed, and efforts to educate the public about exotic animal husbandry have also met with little success.

The EU WTAP identified the exotic pet trade as a crucial issue in the fight against wildlife trafficking, and specific actions were included in their Action Plan. However, few efforts have been undertaken so far to decrease the EU’s contribution to both the illegal trade in species that are protected in their country of origin as well as the introduction of invasive alien species through the exotic pet trade, both of which bring significant economic and environmental costs.

There are several ways to regulate the keeping and trade of exotic pets. However, in line with ever-changing trends, new species regularly appear in the European pet trade. This is why so-called negative lists, which ban the keeping of some species of animals, do not fulfil the precautionary approach and require extensive resources to update. In reality, such updates lag behind developments on the ground. In contrast, a positive list, based on a scientific risk assessment that provides clarity to owners and enforcement agencies, creates less regulatory bureaucracy and fewer costs.

As the world’s main market for the exotic pet trade, whatever policy is implemented in the EU will determine the fate of millions of animals, species and ecosystems, and therefore global biodiversity, around the planet.
Raquel García-van der Walle (AAP Animal Advocacy and Protection), Ilaria di Silvestre (Eurogroup for Animals)

The positive list is one potential example of the Green Deal’s “deeply transformative policies”, which could tick many other boxes in the European Green Deal. It will empower consumers to make informed and sustainable choices, is based on reliable, comparable, and verifiable information, and provides a preventive mechanism with the “do no harm” principle at its very core. Additionally, an EU-wide positive list, by its very nature, can help simplify legislation and its implementation and, lastly, will create room for significant financial savings in the long run.

For all these reasons, the new Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 should include specific actions to regulate the exotic pet trade in the EU while considering the benefits offered by the adoption and implementation of an EU positive list for allowed pet species. The new Action Plan against Wildlife Trafficking should also be fully integrated into the Biodiversity Strategy 2030.

Global dimension

The Green Deal admits that its environmental ambition: “will not be achieved by Europe acting alone. The drivers of climate change and biodiversity loss are global and are not limited by national borders. The EU can use its influence, expertise and financial resources to mobilise its neighbours and partners to join it on a sustainable path.”

A strong, green diplomacy dimension in the design and execution of the new Biodiversity Strategy will therefore be key to making it successful. Trade policy should address as a priority biodiversity conservation and restoration, including ecosystem depletion in source countries. Extraction of wildlife for the pet trade, with the EU as a main market, often has dramatic consequences on the home ecosystem of those species. In many cases, it leads to deforestation and forest degradation. For example, it is well-known that the survival of the barbary macaque is vital to the continued existence of the mixed forests of the North African mountains, which in turn are key to ensuring the water supply in countries like Morocco.

“As the world’s largest single market,” the Green Deal highlights, “the EU can set standards that apply across global value chains.” Furthermore, as the world’s main market for the exotic pet trade, whatever policy is implemented in the EU will determine the fate of millions of animals, species and ecosystems, and therefore global biodiversity, around the planet.

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