Mainstreaming biodiversity into national sectoral policies – why is it difficult? 

By Päivi Haapasaari (Senior Research Scientist, Finnish Environment Agency, Syke)
Volcy Boilevin (Ph.D. candidate, Nantes Université)
Riku Varjopuro (Senior Research Scientist, Finnish Environment Agency, Syke)

Biodiversity loss is a pressing global crisis. Unsustainable human activities have led to what many consider the sixth mass extinction, which includes the marine environment. To reverse this negative trend, it is essential to implement advanced biodiversity protection into environmental and maritime policies and practices at all governance levels: international, EU, regional, national, and local. This process of ‘biodiversity mainstreaming’ still faces certain gaps. In this blog, we explore potential reasons for these shortcomings. 

Institutions at the highest level, such as the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, and the European Union are addressing biodiversity loss. The latest articulation of the EU ambitions in biodiversity conservation is the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030. Building on the Biodiversity Strategy for 2020, it was launched to step up the protection and restoration of nature and the implementation of existing EU strategies and legislation such as Birds and Habitats Directives. Among its ambitions, the new strategy aims to protect 30 % of the European seas and land, of which one third of the protected areas should be strictly protected.

The Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) and the Maritime Spatial Planning Directive (MSPD) are two complementary EU directives playing an essential role in the pursuit of the good environmental status of marine waters and in the sustainable planning of human activities at sea, respectively. The two directives should provide support to biodiversity conservation efforts. The EU has also updated other relevant marine policies, such as the Common Fisheries Policy and the Offshore Renewable Energy Strategy to support the biodiversity strategy.

Therefore, this raises the following question: are biodiversity considerations effectively integrated into the EU member states’ policies?

Results from MSP4BIO analysis indicate that EU member states have effectively updated their national biodiversity strategies to align with the EU biodiversity strategy. The national strategies, accompanied by operationalization plans, include long-term aims to improve the conservation of habitats and species. They also acknowledge the need to integrate biodiversity objectives in all economic sector policies. 

However, biodiversity mainstreaming from national environmental policies to economic sector policies varies between countries and between policy domains. Even when biodiversity objectives are integrated in sectoral policies, significant gaps in their implementation remain. 

The implementation of biodiversity objectives through sectoral policies is difficult due to four main types of barriers:

Conflicting objectives between policies is a common barrier to address biodiversity loss. For example, the current requirement to increase offshore wind energy production may overlap with marine conservation measures, especially in small sea areas hosting many activities. 

The inflexibility of EU policies is sometimes seen as a barrier for realizing more ambitious biodiversity policies at the national level. For example, the Common Fisheries Policy still allows restricted fishing in marine protected areas, although at the national level there would be willingness to enact tighter restrictions on fishing gear impacting the seabed. Ambiguous policy formulations, such as missing quantitative threshold values, can complicate or poorly guide decision-making. 

The incoherent division of mandates between organizations and levels of governance can hamper biodiversity integration in policymaking or implementation. 

Coordination between governance levels, organizations, sectors, regions, and actor groups is often weak. Policymaking frequently occurs in silos and stakeholder participation is poor. 

A lack of knowledge can lead to poor adjustment of environmental policies to the specifics of economic sectors, resulting in a deficiency of operational conservation measures. Insufficient biodiversity monitoring leads to missing data and makes the evaluation and adjustments of policies difficult. 

Poor human and financial resources hinder the implementation of biodiversity objectives. Low environmental literacy may result in low prioritization of biodiversity in decision-making. 

MSP4BIO’s analysis has identified the following levers to enhance biodiversity mainstreaming:

  • High-level policies, especially those with a legally binding nature, support the integration and prioritization of biodiversity objectives in the policy- and decision-making of economic sectors. 
  • An appropriate division of responsibilities among ministries and authorities is important to avoid separation between biodiversity conservation and the management of economic sectors.
  • Coordination, collaboration, and effective communication between organizations in policy formulation and implementation, involving stakeholders, is needed.
  • Adding biodiversity monitoring requirements in policies would improve the data basis used in decision-making and facilitate policy adjustments.
  • Clear policy formulations and adequate resource allocation are essential to overcome the identified obstacles.

MSP4BIO analyzed the role, potential, and limitations of the MSPD and its practical implementation in the EU member states for enhancing biodiversity mainstreaming and policy coherence. The analysis suggested that the link between the MSPD and the MSFD has suffered from lack of spatial clarity within the MSFD and a lack of coherence between the two directives. The EU has defined threshold values related to many of the descriptors of good environmental status such as recently for seabed integrity, which is helpful for MSP, but still, many other problems remain.

Keep an eye out for our upcoming blog post, which will delve further into this topic.

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