The European Commission's new strategy to protect and improve the state of Europe's biodiversity over the next decade highlights six priority targets, accompanied by corresponding measures needed to reach them.
Imposition of the new strategy is expected to start with the full implementation of existing EU legislation, namely the bloc's Habitats and Birds Directives and proper implementation and management of the Natura 2000 network of protected areas.
But the EU executive underlines that upcoming reforms of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) and Cohesion Policy, as well as the shaping of the Future Financial Perspectives post-2013, are "important opportunities to ensure that they also deliver the necessary support and funding for the strategy".
Indeed, insufficient integration of biodiversity concerns into other sectoral policies was one of the root causes of the failure of the EU's previous target of halting biodiversity loss by 2010, according to the Commission.
Implementing EU biodiversity strategy though CAP
To ensure that agricultural activities are sustainable, the new strategy calls a "maximising" of agricultural areas covered by biodiversity-related measures under the CAP by 2020 to allow "the conservation of biodiversity and bring about a measurable improvement in the conservation status of species and habitats that depend on or are affected by agriculture and in the provision of ecosystem services".
But the strategy does not indicate what percentage of the current EU farm area the measures should apply to.
Improvements will be measured against the June 2010 baseline for European biodiversity, compiled by the European Environment Agency, the proposal stressed.
The Commission will propose that CAP direct payments should reward the delivery of environmental public goods that go beyond cross-compliance, such as permanent pasture, green cover, crop rotation or ecological set-aside.
The EU executive also considers including the bloc's Water Framework Directive within the scope of cross-compliance in order to improve the state of aquatic ecosystems in rural areas.
Ultimately, the idea is to integrate quantified biodiversity targets into EU rural development strategies and programmes, encourage the uptake of agri-environmental measures to support genetic diversity in agriculture, and encourage forest owners to protect and enhance forest biodiversity.
"Farmers and foresters manage three quarters of EU landscape. We cannot meet our 2020 [biodiversity] target without engaging them fully," EU Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik warned.
Currently the EU instrument directly targeted at supporting environment related projects across Europe is LIFE+. Its budget for the 2007-2013 period is a little over two billion euros, breaking down to a yearly average of €286 million.
In comparison, the bloc's agricultural policy (CAP), through the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD), provides some €53.5 billion per year in funding for the agricultural and forestry sector, with 80% going on direct aid and market intervention under the first pillar.
Support for biodiversity protection, management and restoration measures in agricultural and forest habitats is mainly funded under the CAP's second pillar on rural development, which gets the remaining 20% (€10.9 billion) of the bloc's yearly farm budget.
The EU executive is also mulling the development and use of innovative financing mechanisms, including market-based instruments (MBI), through which the external costs of consumption and production activities on the environment could be internalised. Such measures would include Payments for Ecosystem Services, green taxes, fees, tradeable permits, eco-labelling, subsidies and compensation schemes.