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How climate proof is the European Union’s biodiversity policy?

Abstract

In the European Union’s (EU) targets for the year 2020, climate change is recognised as a key challenge for biodiversity conservation. Meeting this challenge requires insight at three levels: the climate change impacts on biodiversity in the EU; the adaptation options put forward to alleviate these impacts; and how current EU policy can accommodate the adaptation options. These three topics have all been discussed in the peer-reviewed literature, but typically in isolation and with potential bias in attention for specific aspects such as species distribution shifts and network connectivity. Here, we bring these three levels together to identify matches and gaps between them, to guide policy development. In particular, we assess key concerns on the degree to which EU biodiversity policy facilitates climate change adaptation. Our findings indicate that, firstly, available adaptation options do not cover all impacts of climate change. Options are biased towards shifts and contractions in species distributions, while, e.g., disruption of species interactions is not addressed yet. Second, proposed adaptation options are often generic and lack spatial specificity, revealing an urgent need for guidance on identifying appropriate, albeit adaptive responses to the range of climate change impacts. Third, while EU biodiversity policy requires and supports adaptation in several ways, its narrow interpretation hinders its potential to conserve biodiversity under climate change. Remaining policy gaps include: (1) conservation targets need to better match conservation needs; (2) targets need to be set in a spatially coherent manner across national scales; (3) current monitoring appears insufficient to address these gaps.

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Acknowledgments

This research was financially supported by the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013) under grant agreement no. 244092 ‘RESPONSES’ (all authors) and 308393 ‘OPERAs’ (AvT). MC received funding from the Academy of Finland (grants # 257686 and #250444).

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Correspondence to Astrid van Teeffelen.

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van Teeffelen, A., Meller, L., van Minnen, J. et al. How climate proof is the European Union’s biodiversity policy?. Reg Environ Change 15, 997–1010 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10113-014-0647-3

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Keywords

  • Climate change
  • Climate adaptation
  • Biodiversity conservation
  • Habitats Directive
  • Birds Directive
  • Natura 2000