At a glance: EU legislation on nature

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Article Published 30 Sep 2021 Last modified 29 Aug 2023
2 min read
Photo: © Alessandro Zoccarato, REDISCOVER Nature /EEA
EU Member States started coordinating environmental policies in the 1970s and nature was the first area for European action. To this day, the nature directives — the Birds Directive and the Habitats Directive, first adopted in 1979 and 1992, respectively — constitute the cornerstone of the EU’s efforts to protect and preserve biodiversity.

The two directives put many species and habitats under a common protection scheme with regular monitoring and reporting requirements. The degradation documented thanks to these directives calls for more extensive and coordinated action across many policy domains in Europe and globally.

Today, the EU has one of the most comprehensive sets of environment and climate legislation in the world. Some EU laws tackle pollutant or greenhouse gas emissions, pollution levels in the air or water, or emissions from specific sources, such as industry or transport.

Some EU nature legislation, such as the EU Pollinators Initiative, call for targeted action. Others, the Water Framework Directive (WFD) and the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) in particular, play a central role in protecting nature through ecosystem-based management. The WFD requires Member States to achieve ‘good status’ for all water bodies (lakes, rivers and groundwater) through sustainable and coordinated management of entire river basins.

Similarly, the MSFD calls for good environmental status in the marine environment, tackling pressures and pollution. Nature-related legislation is supported by, among other things, circular economy legislation aimed at reducing waste and contamination risks, for example through better waste management, improved eco-design and limiting single-use plastics.

These laws help EU Member States enjoy cleaner air, shift towards cleaner energy, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and place an increasing share of their land and marine areas under protection, including through the Natura 2000 network. The EU green infrastructure connects more and more natural spaces, allowing wildlife to move between them. Cities are planning green and blue spaces as a way to prepare for climate change impacts and help preserve biodiversity.

The European Green Deal outlines the EU’s long-term ambition of becoming the first climate-neutral continent with a sustainable economy by 2050 and is implemented through key policy instruments such as the EU biodiversity strategy for 2030, the farm to fork strategy, the EU strategy on adaptation to climate change and the new EU forest strategy for 2030. It is also supported by others, including the circular economy action plan, the chemicals strategy and the zero pollution action plan.

To reduce pressures on nature, halt the decline and restore biodiversity, Europe will need to act on all fronts, transform its energy, food and mobility systems, and do so with global partners.

EEA’s information systems on nature

BISE — Biodiversity Information System for Europe: the key source of data and information about biodiversity in Europe.

FISE — Forest Information System for Europe: an entry point for sharing information with the forest community on Europe’s forest environment, its state and development.

WISE — Water Information System for Europe: the European information gateway to water issues. It contains resources on both freshwater and marine environments.