Protecting biodiversity at the global, EU and national levels - a complex yet comprehensive policy framework

European, global and national biodiversity policy and agreements complement each other and jointly work towards halting the loss of biodiversity. This page provides an overview of the policy framework protecting biodiversity across these three levels, highlighting their linkages as well as other relevant policies.

Protecting Biodiversity at the EU level

  • The EU Birds and Habitats Directives or Nature Directives form the legislative cornerstone of European nature protection, thereby establishing an extensive network of special protection areas call the Natura 2000 Network
  • The Natura 2000 Network covers a total surface area of over 1 million km2 of European terrestrial and marine habitats, 18% of the total EU terrestrial and 10% of marine areas.

The European Green Deal was presented in late 2019 and aims to make Europe the first climate-neutral continent by 2050. The Green Deal recognises biodiversity as a key area to contribute to climate neutrality and to eliminate disease outbreaks. This is underlined by the Deal’s ambition for all EU policies to contribute to the preservation and restoration of Europe’s natural capital. The new EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2030 (see below) and ‘Farm to Fork’ Strategy for a fair, healthy and environmentally-friendly food system will be central in this regard. These and many other promising initiatives as part of the Green Deal have the potential to turn the biodiversity crisis in Europe around. In order to achieve the desired impacts and be effective, however, clear objectives, measures, commitment, enforcement mechanisms, adequate financing and monitoring.

What is the key objective of the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030?

Despite significant efforts by the EU Member States, biodiversity and the delivery of ecosystem services continue to decline. Recent data show that only 15 % of habitat and 27% of species assessments at EU level have a good conservation status, while the majority continues to have poor or bad status. This is largely due to habitat loss and fragmentation, pressures from land use change, diffuse pollution, the over-exploitation of resources, and growing impacts of invasive alien species and climate change contribute (State of nature report 2020).

In an effort to curb these worrying trends, the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 aims to ensure that ecosystems are healthy, resilient to climate change, rich in biodiversity and deliver the range of services essential to the prosperity and well-being of its citizens. The Strategy sets ambitious 2030 action-oriented targets linked to protected areas, ecosystem restoration, habitat and species status, urban green spaces, biodiversity to benefit the climate and people, and a new a new biodiversity governance framework enabling transformative change. The Strategy further outlines the ambition to strengthen the biodiversity proofing framework for EU programmes and financing instruments and aims to unlock at least €20 billion a year for spending on nature.

How are Europe’s species and habitats protected?

The European Commission’s EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 sets out to give nature back more than human-induced pressures take. The strategy proposes a path towards the recovery of biodiversity. It has been determined by the strategy, that recovery is strongest in protected areas. In accordance, key commitments of the strategy are linked to the expansion and enhancement of Europe’s web of protected areas, the Natura 2000 network.

Key targets of the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030

  • Legally protect a minimum of 30% of the EU’s land area and 30% of the EU’s sea area and integrate ecological corridors, as part of a true Trans-European Nature Network.
  • Strictly protect at least a third of the EU’s protected areas, including all remaining EU primary and old-growth forests.

  • Effectively manage all protected areas, defining clear conservation objectives and measures, and monitoring them appropriately

The achievement of these ambitions relies on the enforcement of the Habitats Directive and Birds Directive, together commonly referred to as “Nature Directives”. First established over forty years ago, the Nature Directives form the legislative cornerstone of the European nature protection. They provide the framework for the establishment of an extensive network of special protection areas, the Natura 2000 network, which includes almost 28,000 sites with a total surface of over 1,3 million km2 of European terrestrial and marine habitats (Natura 2000 Barometer). This network of protected areas is one of the key instruments to protecting biodiversity in Europe. To gain an overview over all Natura 2000 sites, visit the interactive Natura 2000 Network Viewer.

How is progress towards nature protection goals assessed?

In order to assess the progress being made towards biodiversity conservation targets, the EU Birds and Habitats Directives (known collectively as the Nature Directives) require Member States to report every six years on the status of species and habitats in their territory. This includes information on population size, trends and distribution of species, along with information on the main pressures and threats and conservation measures in place to address these. The results of the EU wide assessments are then published in a ‘State of nature in the EU’ report (EEA, 2020). In addition to measuring progress being made in the Member States, a review of the Directives themselves was also undertaken in 2014 (a so-called ‘Fitness Check’) to assess their effectiveness. While the Directives were found to be ‘fit for purpose’, the assessment highlighted that their implementation needs to be improved and be more comprehensive. The European Commission reacted with the adoption of the EU Action Plan for nature, people and economy, which contains 15 actions aiming to improve the implementation and impact of the Nature Directives

How is biodiversity conservation supported by other EU policies?

Efforts to protect biodiversity are not limited to the EU Nature Directives and the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030. Instead, a complex legislative framework of directives, policies, communications and programmes each serve to address key overarching pressures on the environment. Examples include the Common Agricultural Policy, EU Regulation on Invasive Alien Species  and EU Green Infrastructure Strategy. As new evidence emerges on additional threats to biodiversity and the environment, additional legislation is develop, as was the case for the recent Directive on reduction of the impact of certain plastic products in the environment.

Policy support

EU Pollinators Initiative to address the decline of pollinators in the EU

EU Wild life trade Regulations to enforce CITES Convention on EU level

Zoos Directive to strengthen the role of zoos in the conservation of biodiversity

EU Water Framework Directive addresses integrated river basin management for Europe

EU Forest Strategy promotes sustainable forest management to safeguard multiple functions of forest

EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive for the protection of the marine environment across Europe

Technical support

MAES – Mapping and Assessment of Ecosystems and their Services with the MAES digital atlas for spatial mapping

Copernicus – European Earth Observation Programme for information services based on satellite Earth Observation and in situ data

Biodiversity Data Centre (BDC) provides access to data and information on species, habitat types and sites of interest in Europe

European Nature Information System (EUNIS) is an advanced cross-search tool, linking species, habitat types and sites

Biodiversity Information System for Europe (BISE) is entry point for data and information on biodiversity

Financial support

LIFE programme – EU funding instrument for the environment and climate action

European Structural Investment Funds (ESIF) to invest in job creation and a sustainable and healthy European economy and environment

European Maritime and Fisheries Fund(EMFF) to invest in the maritime economy and support fishing communities

Horizon 2020 is the biggest EU Research and Innovation programme with nearly €80 billion of funding available over 7 years (2014 to 2020)

Mid-term review of the EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2020

The 2015 mid-term review of the EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2020 consisted of a Report from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council on "The Mid-Term Review of the EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2020" and the more detailed Commission Staff Working Document "EU assessment of progress in implementing the EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2020". Contributions from the Member States to the 2015 mid-term review, based on their 5th national reports to the Convention on Biological Diversity, are compiled in a separate document. For a summary of progress towards the 2020 biodiversity targets, see the leaflet.

For a visual presentation of the results of the mid-term review, please click here.

Former strategy

In May 2006, the European Commission adopted a communication on

Protecting Biodiversity at the Global level

  • The United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) is a multilateral treaty guiding the global protection of biodiversity

  • The global community has agreed on a plethora of convetions, forums and commitments to cover every part of biodiversity conservation

What is the aim and role of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity?

Biodiversity loss is described alongside climate change as the most critical global environmental threat and requires a global approach for its protection. The international community agreed upon a number of conventions, treaties and plans to address biodiversity loss and specific related issues, such as the decline in migratory species. To put their goals into action, these conventions are accompanied by operational tools like the setting of targets, programmes of work, trade permits and certificates and site listings.

At the center of global biodiversity protection stands the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), a global multilateral treaty promoting the conservation of biodiversity, the sustainable use of its components, and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits. As part of its post-2020 global biodiversity framework, the CBD will define a strategy for biodiversity protection and renew the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020 and its 20 Aichi Biodiversity Targets. Ongoing updates on the post-2020 process can be found here.

Which other conventions are in place to support the CBD?

The CBD is complemented by further international agreements that cover specific species or habitats, such as the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and the Bonn Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS). Complementary instruments to these conventions as well as the intergovernmental science-policy platform for biodiversity (IPBES) expand the knowledge base on global biodiversity, made publicly available through the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF). The CBD Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020 has also been incorporated within the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which sets out an ambitious framework to address a range of global societal challenges.

Protecting Biodiversity at the National level

  • Member States establish Natura 2000 sites in line with the EU Birds and Habitats Directive requirements
  • Member States are required to report on the conservation status of habitats and species, the state of ecosystems and their services
  • Each Member State is to develop a National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan as part of their commitment to the global Convention on Biological Diversity

How is EU environmental legislation transposed to Member State level?

The EU Birds and Habitats Directives require Member States to establish sites as part of the Natura 2000 network to ensure the long-term survival of Europe’s species and habitats. To this aim, Member States have designated Special Protection Areas (SPAs) for migratory and particularly threatened bird species (according to Birds Directive Article 4) and Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) to ensure the favourable conservation status of each habitat type and species (according to Habitats Directive Article 3 and 4). As the terrestrial component of the Natura 2000 network is largely complete, current efforts target the adoption of appropriate conservation measures and management plans for protected sites (see more information Protected area report). The marine component of the network is, however, largely incomplete in many countries. Those areas which are protected are largely inshore waters, while offshore waters often still have poor protection levels. More information on the state of the Natura 2000 network and its coverage is available from the Natura 2000 Barometer and the Natura 2000 Network Viewer. In addition to the areas covered by the Natura 2000 network, Member States inherit over 105 000 nationally designated areas that are not part of the Natura 2000 network.

How do Member States report on the status of biodiversity?

Under the Birds and Habitats Directives, Article 12 (Birds Directive) and Article 17 (Habitats Directive) require Member States to report every six years on the conservation status of habitats and species and related trends (an overview of reporting can be found here for Habitats Directive Reporting and here for Birds Directive Reporting). The main objective is to maintain and restore habitats and species to a favourable conservation status. Reported data is also used to recognize relevant pressures and threats, to identify conservation measures and to assess data quality.  Information is gathered for each biogeographical and marine region as well as on the number of protected sites and their surface area, the proportion of sites with management plans and the measures undertaken on the protected sites. The latest reporting period covers progress made between 2013 and 2018. Aggregated results of this EU assessment are available online and published in the ‘State of Nature in the EU 2020’ report (see more information on current reporting, State of nature report 2020).

Member State reporting is also used to assess progress towards the EU Biodiversity Strategy’s headline target to halt the loss of biodiversity and its first target. In line with Target 2 and Action 5 of the Strategy, Member States are to map and assess the state of ecosystems and their services (‘MAES’) within their national territory. This process also requires Member States to assess the economic value of such services, and promote the integration of these values into accounting (progress on national MAES reporting can be found here).

How do Member States comply with global biodiversity targets?

In addition to EU legislative obligations, countries which are Parties of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) agree to translate the overarching international framework into revised and updated National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans (NBSAPs) (see statistics and documents per country here). Moreover, MS are requested to submit National Reports for reviewing progress towards the implementation of the Strategic Plan 2011-2020 and its Aichi Targets. The main focus of the reporting lies on how the NBSAPs have been updated and implemented as well as how the measures contribute to the achievement of the targets (results from the sixth reporting period can be found here).

More country-specific information regarding national policies, the state of native species and habitats as well as facts on nationally designated protected areas and Natura 2000 sites can be accessed via the search engine.