The European Union’s Environment Council on Friday endorsed the proposal by the president of the European Union to create protected areas for 30 percent of the continent’s land and water by 2030, along with legally binding measures to tighten forest protections.
But Europe’s governing body also was criticized by environmental and climate activists for not curbing agricultural subsidies that drive pollution.
Britain, Canada and the state of California have made similar conservation pledges in recent months. Their promises, mostly without detailed road maps, come in the wake of a major United Nations-backed scientific report that calls for transformative changes in the way humans use the Earth’s land and waters in order to avoid dire consequences, including threats to the global food supply and health.
Whether those changes will be made soon enough depends on what nations of the world can agree to when they begin negotiations next year on a new global agreement to protect nature at an international summit scheduled to take place in Kunming, China. A draft proposal for those negotiations seeks for countries of the world to protect at least 30 percent of the planet, among other goals. Recent studies have offered road maps on which areas offer the most value for biodiversity and carbon storage.
Previous pledges to protect nature have gone unmet, with unsustainable farming practices, overfishing and pollution placing the world on the brink of catastrophic biodiversity collapse.
The European Union’s biodiversity proposal also seeks to reduce the use of harmful pesticides by 50 percent by 2030, and to restore 25,000 kilometers of rivers to their free-flowing state by removing dams and other human-made diversions.
The European Commission has yet to prepare legislation on the biodiversity proposal. Lawmakers would have to vote on it before it can become law.
The conservation group, Campaign for Nature, approved the move, saying in a statement that “the litmus test will now be the effective implementation of the strategy,” particularly by the member nations of the European Union.
But the European Parliament also on Friday supported a contentious agricultural policy that offers direct payments to farmers and that environmental groups say promotes industrial agriculture that contributes to biodiversity loss and increased greenhouse gas emissions. Environmental groups had pushed lawmakers to instead link a large share of farmer subsidies to ecological protection measures.
Youth climate activists, including Greta Thunberg of Sweden, had waged a campaign to press lawmakers to vote against the common agricultural policy, or CAP, with the hashtag #VoteThisCAPDown.
The World Wildlife Fund’s European office said on Twitter that European parliamentarians had “shut their eyes to the climate & biodiversity crises.” The European Union’s own study recently concluded that around 80 percent of the continent’s natural habitats are in poor condition, and biodiversity in Europe continues to decline.
Catrin Einhorn contributed reporting.