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This section introduces the instruments that represent the key components of the EU legal framework for biodiversity protection and highlights additional resources to learn more about each instrument.
European countries started working together over 40 years ago to protect nature and to preserve national heritages. This collaboration was recognized by the European Union through the adoption of dedicated legislation to ensure the conservation of all bird species and most endangered or outstandingly characteristic European animals, plants and habitats, through the Birds and Habitats Directives.
Since the adoption of these landmark pieces of legislation, further agreements for biodiversity governance beyond protection have been adopted, not least within the framework of the European Green Deal. The Green Deal, approved in 2020, is a set of policy initiatives aiming to make the EU climate neutral by 2050. Most notably, it is supported by the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030, the Birds and Habitats Directives, the forthcoming Nature Restoration Law, EU Forest Strategy, Marine Strategy Framework Directive, Water Framework Directive and Soil Strategy.
Additional biodiversity policies include the Pollinators Initiative and the Regulation on Invasive Alien Species. The goal to ensure a functioning biodiversity for us and future generations is further supported by the Adaptation Strategy, as well as funding programmes such as the LIFE, Horizon Europe and European Maritime and Fisheries Fund.
What are the key European policies governing our biodiversity?
- The European Green Deal
- Biodiversity Strategy for 2030
- Birds and Habitats Directives and Natura 2000
- The proposed Nature Restoration Law
- Forest Strategy
- Marine Strategy Framework Directive
- Water Framework Directive
- Soil Strategy for 2030
- Pollinators Initiative
- Invasive Alien Species Regulation
- EU Adaptation Strategy
- Funding instruments
The European Green Deal
The Green Deal, approved in 2020, is a set of policy initiatives aiming to make the EU climate neutral by 2050. It covers new or updated legislation for all areas of society, striving for a transition to cleaner energy and efficient and environmentally friendly transport, supporting regional development and improving our houses and buildings, ensuring a competitive EU by greening and digitalizing our industry, research and innovation and protecting our biodiversity and ecosystems and create a healthy food system for people and the planet.
These goals are put into action through several new strategies, recommendations and action plans, with the ultimate goal of ensuring a change in the way we use our planet. For the environment the key pillar of the Green Deal is the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 and the commitments stemming from this
More information on the Green Deal:
Biodiversity Strategy for 2030
The EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 (BDS 2030) is the overarching strategy to ensure that the EU moves towards sustainable use and coexistence with its biodiversity. It entails ambitious goals to further advance the protection of Europe’s nature and is a core pillar of the European Green Deal. Specifically, the strategy 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 action-oriented targets to be reached by 2030, linked to protected areas, ecosystem restoration, biodiversity to benefit the climate and people, habitat and species status and urban green spaces. It also guides the EUs development towards a transformative change by strengthening the biodiversity governance framework, knowledge, research, financing and investments, as well as the environmental awareness in businesses through for example the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive. The ambition to strengthen the biodiversity proofing framework for EU programmes and financing instruments is outlined, aiming to unlock at least €20 billion a year for spending on nature. Furthermore, the strategy aims to improve the EUs global collaboration on trade policy and international ocean governance and sets the ambition for the EU to be a global leader on biodiversity conservation by pushing for higher targets in global negotiations (see the section on UN CBD for information about COP 15).
What does the EU aim to achieve for biodiversity?
- 30% of land and sea protected
- 25,000 km of rivers restored to a free-flowing state
- 50% decrease in pesticide use and risk
- No more decline in pollinators
- 3 billion trees planted
- €20 billion unlocked per year
- Bring on board businesses
- Become a Global leader on biodiversity actions.
Birds and Habitats Directives and Natura 2000
An early turning point for biodiversity conservation in the EU was the adoption of the Birds Directive on the conservation of wild birds in 1979 and of the Habitats Directive on the conservation of species and habitats in 1992. Together – commonly referred to as the ‘Nature Directives’ – these pieces of binding legislation envisage the creation of protected areas to achieve nature conservation objectives. While the Birds Directive protects over 500 wild bird species naturally occurring in the EU, the Habitats Directive protects over 1,000 animal and plant species and over 200 types of habitats.
In order to assess the progress being made towards favourable conservation status, Member States are required to report every six years on the status of species and habitats in their territory. This includes information on population size and habitats extent, trends and distribution of species and habitats, along with information on the main pressures and threats and conservation measures in place to address these. The results together with the EU wide assessments are then published in a ‘State of nature in the EU’ report.
The Special Protected Areas (SPAs) classified under the Birds Directive, and Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) designated under the Habitats Directive form the Natura 2000 network, are an EU wide‑ ecological network of protected areas covering 18.6% of terrestrial and 9% of marine surface area in the EU. The establishment of the Natura 2000 network has been an important milestone and a turning point in the history of European protected areas and conservation efforts. More information and the most current data on the status of the Natura 2000 network are available at the Natura 2000 Barometer.
More information on the Nature Directives and Natura 2000:
- European Commission on Habitats Directive
- European Commission on Birds Directive
- European Commission on Natura 2000
The proposed Nature Restoration Law
The Commission published the draft proposal for the Nature Restoration Law in June 2022. This draft sets specific restoration targets for each ecosystem type, covering all of EU’s nature. The law is currently undergoing the co-legislative process and has not yet been adopted.
More information on the Nature Restoration Law Proposal:
- Documents (Proposal for the Regulation, Annexes, impact assessments)
- European Commission page on Nature restoration law
- European Commission page on success stories
- Questions and Answers on Nature Restoration
- Factsheet on Nature Restoration Law
- EEA briefing "The importance of restoring nature in Europe"
The EU Forest Strategy for 2030, one of the flagship initiatives of the European Green Deal, promotes sustainable forest management and lays out a vision and concrete actions for improving the quantity and quality of European forests. The aim is to increase forest protection, restoration and resilience, supporting several commitments of the Biodiversity Strategy for 2030.
You can read more about the forests on Forest Information System for Europe (FISE), the joint European Commission and European Environmental Agencyentry point for sharing information on the state of Europe’s forest environment and related developments.
More information on the EU Forest Strategy:
Marine Strategy Framework Directive
The Marine Strategy Framework Directive aims to protect Europe’s marine environment, by increasing the understanding of pressures like overfishing, litter, excess nutrients, and pollution as well as their impacts on marine biodiversity and habitats.
You can explore more about the marine environment on WISE-Marine, the joint European Commission and European Environmental Agency gateway to information on European marine issues, in support of ecosystem-based management and ocean governance.
More information on the Marine Strategy Framework Directive:
Water Framework Directive
The EU Water Framework Directive aims to achieve a good status of all ground and surface waters (rivers, lakes, transitional waters and coastal waters). The introduction of River Basin Districts and correlating Management Plans are a key aspect of the Directive to achieve integrated river basin management across Europe.
You can read more about the freshwater environment on WISE-Freshwater, which is the joint European Commission and European Environmental Agency gateway for searching, accessing, retrieving and understanding data on the environmental status and policy assessments of European fresh waters.
More information on the Water Framework Directive:
Soil Strategy for 2030
The EU Soil Strategy for 2030 provides as a framework to guide the protection and restoration of soils as well as to ensure their sustainable use. The Strategy outlines a vision and objectives to achieve healthy soils by 2050, including concrete actions to be taken by 2030. More specifically, the Strategy aims to ensure the following targets are reached by 2050: healthy and resilient EU soil ecosystems and the continued delivery of critical services; no net land take and unharmful levels of soil pollution; and the sustainable management, protection and restoration of soils as a common standard.
The Soil Strategy serves as a key deliverable of the EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2030 and will contribute to the objectives of the European Green Deal. A Soil Health Law is also foreseen until 2023, which will increase the consideration of soils in decision-making and foster a higher level of environmental and health protection.
More information on the Soil Strategy:
The EU Pollinators Initiative – the first ever initiative on wild pollinators - addresses the decline of pollinators across the EU. Adopted in 2018, the initiative outlines objectives toward 2030 as well as necessary short-term actions to take across Member States to achieve these aims. Specifically, the Pollinators Initiative sets out to:
More information on the EU Pollinators Initiative:
Invasive Alien Species Regulation
The EU Invasive Alien Species (IAS) Regulation provides for a set of measures to be taken across the EU in relation to invasive alien species that are included in the list of Alien Species of Union Concern. IAS refer to animals and plants that are introduced accidentally or deliberately into a natural environment where they are not normally found, with serious negative consequences for their new environment. They represent a major threat to native plants and animals in Europe.
Three distinct types of measures are envisaged in the Regulation, which follow an internationally agreed hierarchical approach to combatting IAS: Prevention, Early detection and rapid eradication, and Management. In order to assess the progress of the implementation of the Regulation, Member States report every six years on pathways, permits, inspections of establishments, rapid eradication measures, management measures of IAS of Union concern.
The European Commission has developed an information exchange mechanism to facilitate the implementation of the EU policy on invasive alien species: the European Alien Species Information Network (EASIN). It's an online platform that aims to facilitate access to existing information on alien species from a range of sources.
More information on the IAS Regulation and EASIN:
- European Commission on Invasive Alien Species
- European Commission List of Alien Species of Union Concern
- European Alien Species Information Network (EASIN)
EU Adaptation Strategy
The EU Adaptation Strategy aims to support adaptation to climate change and work towards becoming climate resilient by 2050. The four main objectives are to make adaptation smarter, swifter and more systemic and to step up international action on climate change adaptation. Nature-based solutions are highlighted as one of three cross-cutting priorities. You can read more about the Strategy and Climate adaptation initiatives by visiting the Climate Adaptation Platform Climate-ADAPT, a partnership between the European Commission and the European Environment Agency which aims to support Europe in adapting to climate change helping users to access and share data and information.
More information on the EU Adaptation Strategy:
The LIFE programme is the EU's funding instrument for the environment and climate action, co-financing thousands of projects since 1992. Nature and biodiversity are one of the core focus areas.
Horizon Europe is the EU’s key funding programme for research and innovation, with a budget of €95.5 billion. Topics such as biodiversity, nature-based solutions, climate change adaptation and mitigation, sustainable transformation and others are covered under a diversity of calls.
The European Maritim and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) helps fishers to adopt more sustainable fishing practices as well as to help coastal communities to diversify their economies, supporting the EU’s maritime and fisheries policies.
More information about the funding instruments:
- LIFE programme page - CINEA
- European Commission Funding programmes and open calls page
- European Commission European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF)