Break­through in the protection of nature, oceans, whales, and dolphins

17 June 2021

Last week, the European Parliament voted in favour of ambitious plans to protect and restore nature. To increase biodiversity, protect oceans and forests and recognize ecocide – the destruction or large-scale damaging of ecosystems – as an international crime. By 2030, 30% of all land and sea areas must be protected, according to Parliament. A vital step, says MEP Anja Hazekamp of the Dutch Party for the Animals: 'No less than 1 million species are threatened with extinction.’ She co-wrote the plans and successfully called for, among other things, the protection of primeval forests from logging for biomass and the upholding of a worldwide ban on whaling.

The plans are part of a report on the European Biodiversity Strategy. This highlights that deforestation, climate change, large-scale agriculture and wildlife trade pose a threat not only to biodiversity, but also to humans. `We can drastically reduce the risk of pandemics by minimizing harmful human activities. Preventing a pandemic costs 100 times less than fighting it,’ says MEP Anja Hazekamp.

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Short animation by the British artist Steve Cutts about the relationship between the emergence of pandemics and the loss of nature and biodiversity through human activities.

Nature reserves and forests
To protect nature, harmful industrial activities and the construction of new roads and airports in and near nature reserves should no longer be authorized, according to a majority of MEPs.

The current EU renewable energy rules should also be revised to bring them in line with nature conservation targets. This call was partly made at Hazekamp's initiative: `The current EU rules mean that the few European primeval forests that remain are used as a factory for wood pellets. Which is anything but sustainable; it is disastrous for biodiversity and causes enormous CO2 emissions," says Hazekamp.

To better protect our seas and oceans, a third of these waters must be given protected status. `This is an important step,’ says Hazekamp, who is also a member of the European Parliament's Fisheries Committee. `If we do nothing, half of all sea plants and animals will be extinct by 2100. Our waters are still being overfished and only about 11% of Europe's seas and oceans currently have protected status. Fishing is still allowed in the majority of these “protected” areas, even using the most harmful fishing techniques.’

According to Hazekamp, the call for fishing bans in protected nature reserves is therefore crucial. `It is vital that we start to truly protect those protected areas. Which means no fishing or drilling for oil or gas, but letting nature take its course so it can recover. This ensures the recovery of fish stock, both inside and outside the protected areas.’

Whale and dolphin hunting
The Dutch Party for the Animals' proposal to maintain the global ban on commercial whaling also received support in the plenary vote. Parliament furthermore called on the International Whaling Commission to act against illegal commercial whaling by Norway.

A call on the Faroe Islands to stop the controversial hunt of pilot whales - the second largest dolphin species - was adopted by a large majority as well. The European Parliament has ordered the 27 EU countries and the European Commission to continue to exert pressure on the archipelago to eliminate the hunt of these large dolphins.