Halve the use of chemical pesticides before 2030. It is one of the main objectives of the new rules presented this Wednesday by the European Commission, to reduce by law the use and risk of pesticides in the EU, according to the “farm to table strategy, which establishes a fair, healthy and environmentally friendly food system”.
The new rules introduce binding targets in the EU to reduce by 50% the use and risk of chemical pesticides as well as the use of the most dangerous pesticides by 2030. “Member States will have to set their own reduction targets within parameters clearly defined, as well as their own strategies to ensure that the EU-wide objective is achieved collectively”, says Brussels.
The Commission also introduces new rules to make pest control environmentally friendly and "ensure that all farmers consider alternative pest control methods first, and that chemical pesticides are used as a last resort."
The Community Executive also proposes the prohibition of the use of all pesticides in sensitive areas (and within 3 meters of these areas), such as parks or public gardens, playgrounds, recreational or sports grounds, public paths, as well as areas ecologically sensitive.
Hand in hand with this regulation, the European Commission proposes that farmers receive support from the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) in this transition: "For 5 years, Member States can use the CAP to cover the costs of the new requirements for the farmers".
The new rules will be set out in a regulation, which is directly binding on all member states.
Brussels insists that there are significant risks to the health of citizens related to the use of chemical pesticides, especially for those who use them, but also for vulnerable groups and children. Chemical pesticides can have dermatological, gastrointestinal, neurological, carcinogenic, respiratory, reproductive, and endocrine effects.
High occupational, accidental, or intentional exposure to pesticides can result in hospitalization and death. Already in 1990, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that around one million cases of unintentional pesticide poisoning occur annually, causing approximately 20,000 deaths. A recent review estimates that around 385 million cases of acute unintentional pesticide poisonings occur annually worldwide, including around 11,000 deaths.
Every year between 2013 and 2019, pesticides above their threshold of effect were detected in between 13% and 30% of all surface water monitoring points in European rivers and lakes.
In agricultural areas, the use of some chemical pesticides contributes to the decline of pollinators that are necessary to feed a growing world population. 75% of global food crop types depend on animal pollination and 50% of the land in the EU cultivated with pollinator-dependent crops already faces a pollination deficit.
In the EU, up to almost €15 billion of annual EU agricultural production is directly attributed to pollinating insects. 10% of bee and butterfly species in Europe are on the verge of extinction, and 33% of them are in decline.
Despite its importance, Europe's nature is in alarming decline with over 80% of habitats in poor condition. Wetlands, peat bogs, grasslands and dune habitats are the most affected. In Western, Central and Eastern Europe, wetlands have shrunk by 50% since 1970. 71% of fish and 60% of amphibian populations have declined over the last decade. Between 1997 and 2011, the loss of biodiversity represented an estimated annual loss of 3.5 to 18.5 billion euros.
The European Commission has also presented this Wednesday a proposal for a law for the restoration of nature, “to support the recovery of degraded, damaged or destroyed ecosystems and recover more nature and biodiversity everywhere, from agricultural and forest land to marine environments and urban spaces”.
The economic cost of the degradation of nature “is remarkably high”, calculates the European Commission: “The cost of land degradation in the EU, for example, exceeds 50,000 million euros a year. The benefits of nature restoration, by contrast, far outweigh the costs. Restoring marine ecosystems will allow fish populations to recover, reversing the decline in pollinators will benefit agriculture, and forests with greater biodiversity will be more resilient to climate change."
Another example: the health, economic resilience, recreation benefits of restoring peatlands, marshes, forests, heaths and shrublands, grasslands, rivers, lakes and coastal wetlands are estimated at over $1.8 trillion, with costs of about 150,000 million.
What actions are planned?
In relation to natural and semi-natural ecosystems: Enhance and restore habitats on a large scale and recover populations of species by improving and expanding their habitats; reverse the decline of bee, butterfly, bumblebee, and other pollinator populations by 2030, and allow pollinator populations to start increasing again, with a methodology for regular pollinator monitoring; achieve a positive trend for standing and lying dead wood, unevenly aged forests, forest connectivity, abundance of common forest birds, and organic carbon stock; no net loss of urban green space by 2030, a 3% increase in the total area covered by urban green space by 2040 and a 5% increase by 2050; that there is a minimum of 10% urban tree cover; and a net gain from urban green spaces that are integrated into new and existing buildings and infrastructure developments.
Agricultural Ecosystems: Increase grassland butterflies and farmland birds, organic carbon stock in farmland mineral soils, and proportion of farmland with highly diverse landscape features; restore 30% of drained peatlands under agricultural use by 2030; and 70% by 2050.
Marine Ecosystems: Restoration of marine habitats such as seagrasses or sediment bottoms that provide significant benefits, including for climate change mitigation; and restore the habitats of iconic marine species such as dolphins and porpoises, sharks, and seabirds.
River Connectivity: Identify and remove barriers to surface water connectivity so that at least 25,000 km of rivers are restored to a free-flowing state by 2030.