Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences - Biogeography

Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences | Geography Department | Biogeography | News | Conflicting EU policies may hamper biodiversity conservation without mitigating climate change

Conflicting EU policies may hamper biodiversity conservation without mitigating climate change

In this paper, we reviewed the EU environmental policies and programmes aimed at mitigating climate change and conserving biodiversity, and questioned the common assumption that in addition to the perceived climate benefits increasing forest area will also support biodiversity, thus making afforestation a “win-win scenario”. Indeed, joined climate and biodiversity benefits are strongly context-dependent. For instance, when afforestation occurs on extensively managed, biodiversity-rich semi-natural grasslands, the environmental benefits of afforestation are highly questionable. We found a striking ambivalence between policies and funding schemes addressing grassland conservation on the one hand and those supporting afforestation on the others, and highlighted the risk that the EU may be paying to maintain these grasslands in some areas, while also be paying to convert similar grasslands into forests.

Current European policies are unlikely to jointly foster carbon sequestration and protect biodiversity

 

Burrascano, S. Chytrý, M. Kuemmerle, T. Giarrizzo, E. | Luyssaert, S. Sabatini, F.M. | Blasi, C.

 

The extension of forest area is a globally accepted tool to offset CO2 emissions from deforestation and the combustion of fossil fuels. The common assumption is that in addition to the perceived climate benefits increasing forest area will also support biodiversity, thus making afforestation a “win-win scenario”. Based on the existing scientific evidences, we show that joined climate and biodiversity benefits are strongly context-dependent and that the outcome of afforestation is often highly questionable. In Europe, grasslands managed at low intensity contribute substantially to biodiversity conservation and carbon storage. However, many of these grasslands have been lost due to abandonment and subsequent spontaneous succession towards woody vegetation, or due to land use intensification. Moreover, grasslands are the ecosystems most often deliberately afforested in the context of EU carbon-centered policies that may thus counteract biodiversity conservation programmes. By reviewing the main EU policies targeting forests and grasslands, we found a striking ambivalence between policies and funding schemes addressing grassland conservation on the one hand (e.g. Habitats Directive, green payments within the Common Agricultural Policy) and those supporting afforestation on the other (e.g. rural development funds). We suggest three measures towards a better harmonization of the European Union policies that target forest and grassland ecosystems: (1) promoting the alignment of the decisions taken across different policy sectors; (2) focusing on the whole range of ecosystem services and biodiversity issues rather than on carbon management only; (3) valuing systems managed at low-intensity for their multifunctionality.

 

Link to the manuscript: DOI:10.1016/j.biocon.2016.08.005

Citation: Burrascano, S., Chytrý, M., Kuemmerle, T., Giarrizzo, E., Luyssaert, S., Sabatini, F.M., Blasi, C., 2016. Current European policies are unlikely to jointly foster carbon sequestration and protect biodiversity. Biol. Conserv. 201, 370-376.