Governments gather as biodiversity and climate crises reach fever pitch

Posted on July, 08 2019

With the biodiversity and climate crises reaching fever pitch, this week's gathering of Environment and Climate Ministers will be a critical space to gauge whether the EU is truly willing to tackle these challenges head on and outside of the limelight of international agreements.
What’s happening?

EU Member States and the European Commission will be gathering in Helsinki on Thursday for an Informal Meeting of Environment and Climate Ministers (11-12 July) to discuss three key topics: the circular economy, biodiversity and climate change. 

With the biodiversity and climate crises reaching fever pitch, this meeting will be a critical space to gauge whether the EU is truly willing to tackle these challenges head on and outside of the limelight of international agreements. 

Andreas Baumüller, Head of Natural Resources at WWF’s European Policy Office, said: 

“The EU has strong legislation to halt biodiversity loss, but Member States must walk the talk if they are to be credible champions for nature in the international context. The discussions need to result in concrete action at the global, EU and national level. We need a Global Deal for Nature and People which will reflect the level of ambition required to tackle the biodiversity crisis, but also ensure all actions are made to work on the ground, including through full implementation of the EU Birds and Habitats Directive and EU Water Framework Directive.” 

Imke Luebbeke, Head of EU Climate and Energy Policy at WWF’s European Policy Office, said: 

“EU leaders hit pause on a climate neutral target last month, despite support from 24 Member States. This means the EU risks turning up at the UNSG summit this September empty handed. Environment ministers and the Finnish Presidency need urgently to work out how to break the impasse  and commit to the climate neutral goal as soon as possible. Reaching net zero emissions by 2040 in the EU is essential if we are to uphold the Paris Agreement and limit devastating climate change.” 

Why does this meeting matter? 

  • Biodiversity is declining at breakneck speed - freshwater biodiversity alone has depleted by more than 80% worldwide in the last 50 years. According to the recent IPBES report, 1 million species are currently threatened with extinction, and freshwater biodiversity continues to be the most threatened. 
  • The EU is currently set to fail its own target of halting biodiversity loss by 2020, as laid out in the EU Biodiversity Strategy. To change this, a strong political commitment for a “New Deal for Nature and People” is needed to put society on a pathway to restoring nature by 2030.
  • The post 2020 Global Biodiversity Framework - which Environment Ministers will be starting to discuss on Thursday - is a critical component of this new deal and it is vital that the EU shows ambition as these discussions will lay the groundwork for the Council Conclusions under the Finnish Presidency (December 2019). 

Climate change: 
  • We could pass 1.5°C temperature rise in as little as twelve years; this is the level that scientists say would avoid catastrophic climate change, and which countries committed to aim for under the Paris Agreement. This is now a global emergency.
  • For WWF, the EU needs to reduce its net emissions to zero by 2040 to play its part in averting disaster. Although 24 Member States supported a ‘net zero’ goal for 2050 at the June EU summit, agreement was blocked by Poland, Estonia, the Czech Republic and Hungary. 
  • This means the EU - unlike many other countries - will probably not bring a higher climate pledge to the UN Secretary General’s climate summit in September. 
  • A commitment to reaching zero net emissions by 2040, and an update of the EU’s 2030 climate target, must be included in the EU’s updated climate pledge to the UN. WWF is calling on the Finnish EU Presidency and the new EU Commission president to help make that happen urgently.
What will WWF be looking for? 

  • At international level, WWF calls for an ambitious Post 2020 Global Biodiversity Framework with strong implementation and accountability mechanisms and achievable, science based targets to protect natural spaces, drive sustainability and prevent further, human-caused loss of species. 
  • WWF proposes the following three headline targets by 2030 that indicate where action is needed and what is at stake:
  1. Zero loss of natural spaces
  2. Zero extinction of species
  3. Half the negative ecological impact of production and consumption
  • At EU level, WWF calls for the post 2020 Biodiversity Strategy to contain strong targets to better implement and enforce key legislation which safeguards nature in Europe - especially the EU Birds and Habitats Directive and the EU Water Framework Directive - with a particular emphasis on the restoration of ecosystems to unlock climate change mitigation and adaptation potential. 

Climate change:
  • Environment ministers must acknowledge that the EU’s climate targets are incompatible with  the 1.5C target enshrined in the Paris Agreement. The EU must:
  • commit by 2020 to substantially increase its 2030 target , to 65% from 40%;
  • agree to achieve zero net greenhouse gas emissions by 2040 at the latest 
  • Environment ministers must call on the Finnish EU presidency to make the commitments above happen.
  • Environment ministers must call on the EU Commission to prepare a ramped up commitment on climate finance to bring to the UNSG summit in September, to support vulnerable countries in climate mitigation and adaptation.

For climate: 
Sarah Azau 
Senior Communications Officer
WWF European Policy Office 
+32 473 573 137

For biodiversity:
Sophie Bauer
Communications Officer
WWF European Policy Office 
+32 471 05 25 11
Male roe deer with Siberian irises, Slovakia
© Wild Wonders of Europe /Konrad Wothe / WWF