Challenges in Sustainability | 2017 | Volume 5 | Issue 1 | Pages 43–51
DOI: 10.12924/cis2017.05010043
ISSN: 2297–6477
Challenges in
Research Article
You Can’t Eat Biodiversity: Agency and Irrational Norms in
European Aquatic Environmental Law
Tim O’Higgins
Marine Governace Group, MaREI, Environmental Research Institute, University College Cork, Cork, Ireland.
E-Mail:; Tel.: +353 214864324
Submitted: 20 March 2016 | In revised form: 21 July 2016 | Accepted: 12 October 2016 |
Published: 19 March 2017
Policies of the European Union cover a range of social, environmental and economic aspirations
and the current environmental directives and laws have evolved from a suite of norms which have changed
over time. These may be characterised loosely according to ‘Three Ps’: Practical, those taking an
anthropocentric approach; Pure, those taking an ecocentric approach and Popular, those appealing to the
general public. In this paper I use these three perspectives as a tool to analyse the complexity and identify
contradictions in European aquatic environmental legislation. Some trade-offs between development and
conservation are identified and used to characterise the potential qualities of more successful agency to
achieve environmental goals in the governance of European aquatic environments.
Keywords: biodiversity; environmental policy; ecosystem services; transformation
1. Argument: Human Development and Evolving
The normative role of sustainability science, by all modern
definitions, is that of balancing conservation of the environ-
ment with sustainable use, where sustainable development
is defined as meeting current needs without compromis-
ing the needs of the future [
]. The Sustainable Devel-
opment Goals (SDGs) set out the most comprehensive
suite of 17 social, economic and environmental goals and
169 targets to which sustainability science might aspire.
Achieving these goals is a major challenge for humanity. At
current efficiencies of resource use, and with current pat-
terns of resource distribution in global society, the goals of
eliminating poverty and hunger, promoting equality, provid-
ing jobs, economic infrastructure and growth all demand an
increase in the resources available to many of the world’s
seven billion population. At the same time, considerations
of ecological footprints suggest that many wealthier na-
tions are living beyond sustainable levels of consumption
] and will need to decrease these levels to achieve
sustainability. Against this backdrop of global inequality,
biodiversity globally is declining as humans continue to
appropriate undeveloped areas [
]. At the core of sus-
tainability science lie trade-offs between equitability and
affluence as well as human use and non-use of natural
resources. These trade-offs are ‘wicked problems’ which
will involve winners and losers, and their solutions require
moral judgments [6].
In 1992 the Convention on Biodiversity (CBD) recog-
nised the “intrinsic value” of the diversity of life [
], which ul-
timately contributed to the SDGs recognising the“integrated
and indivisible’ balance between social economic and envi-
ronmental aspects of sustainability [
].The current outlook
on the role of man and nature set out in the SDGs has
changed considerably since the inception of the European
project following World War II. At that time, human popula-
tion was approaching the peak of its growth [
] with the pop-
2017 by the authors; licensee Librello, Switzerland. This open access article was published
under a Creative Commons Attribution License (
ulation movement (successor to the eugenics movement
and precursor to the modern environmental movement) ad-
vocating direct population control in a resource constrained
planet [
] while the “green revolution” successfully set
about improving agricultural yields [
]. However, this in-
tensification of agricultural production has led to increasing
environmental degradation of terrestrial and aquatic habi-
tats [
] and these growing global pressures brought
into focus the increasing rate of species extinctions [
The prevailing narrative in modern conservation sci-
ence connects biodiversity with ecosystem processes and
human well-being through ecosystem services, the ben-
efits obtained by humans from nature. These may be di-
vided into supporting, regulating, provisioning and cultural
services [
]. The benefits provided by ecosystem
services may be further categorised as active or pas-
sive use values as well as non-use values such as ex-
istence, option and bequest values [
]. This narrative
accommodates the norms of the SDGs recognising that
social systems are connected to ecological systems and
viewing biodiversity as an underpinning natural resource
enabling development. There remains, however, great un-
certainty about the mechanisms connecting biodiversity
to ecosystem processes, ecosystem services and bene-
fits [
]. Despite ongoing global declines in biodiversity
and ecosystem services, human well-being at the global
level has continued to increase, which may be due to the
reliance of well-being on food production, the decoupling
of well-being from nature through technology, or time-lags
between the loss of biodiversity and its consequences in
terms of well-being [25].
The EU Biodiversity strategy [
], successor to the Biodi-
versity Action Plan [
], aims to halt biodiversity loss within
Europe and stop global biodiversity loss by 2020 in line
with SDGs 14 and 15, the protection and sustainable use
of the oceans, and terrestrial environments respectively.
The EU strategy [
] was developed to provide Europe with
a mechanism to achieve its commitments under the CBD.
Meeting the goals of the biodiversity strategy through the
use of existing environmental legislation and the develop-
ment of new legislation in Europe requires joining together
many different environmental laws and policies, which have
developed alongside the shifting norms described above.
Norms are considered here in the general sense as sets of
societal values or standards.
The shifting role of biological science in social develop-
ment, through the eugenics, population and subsequent
environmental movements, has left a legacy of economics,
politics and legislation which have formed the current mod-
els for Earth system’s governance and have potential to
enable, or to hamper, productive development of environ-
mental governance systems. Changing norms have shaped
European environment and development policies over time,
and the application of environmental regulation has led to
social and political trade-offs, generally favouring economic
development (sustainable or otherwise).
Europe has been hailed as a leader in environmental
protection [
] and the quest for sustainability, yet despite
a wide range of legislative measures and environmental
protection policies, the European Biodiversity Strategy is
failing [
]. Traditionally environmental science has been
reactive [
], i.e. problems are usually identified and a
solution is found to address the specific problem. Yet to
achieve sustainability, it is increasingly recognised that a
more proactive, transformative approach is required where
there is a coherent vision of a sustainable future [
]. Nor-
mative analysis of existing policies can therefore serve as
a baseline to assess the values on which existing environ-
mental policies have developed and to compare these to
current aspirations or visions such as those set out in the
SDGs or under the EU Biodiversity Strategy. Explicit recog-
nition of the multiple competing values underlying different
initiatives which aspire to sustainability, can serve as a first-
step to analysing policy coherence, aligning multiple policy
objectives and institutional recognition of the range of diver-
gent norms in existing policies. As such normative policy
analysis can act as a useful starting point for institutional
While the SDGs 14 and 15, and the Biodiversity Strat-
egy set the mission of achieving sustainability in terms of
reducing biodiversity loss, the legal mandate for sustain-
ability in EU member states is determined by environmen-
tal laws and directives. The pathways toward sustainabil-
ity are dependent on the current levels of sustainability
(the status quo) and the trajectories toward sustainabil-
ity are dependent on the legacy of historic and existing
practices. For practical purposes, the legal mandate of
sustainability science is enshrined in the legislation and
understanding how this legislation has developed is there-
fore critical to assessing the changes required to meet
the goals of the mission.
The aim of this paper is to identify the norms informing
environmental legislation in the European context with a
particular focus on their relevance to the biodiversity strat-
egy in marine and freshwater aquatic environments. Three
dominant themes in European environmental legislation are
identified. These norms are traced through the develop-
ment of environmental legislation, and the implications for
these norms in developing effective agency in environmen-
tal management is explored.
2. Analysis and Discussion
2.1. A Normative Classification of Environmental Policy
Sustainable development is often represented as having
three distinct interrelated components: economy, environ-
ment and society. The model presented by Giddings et al.,
] of concentric circles with environment containing soci-
ety, and society containing economy, represents an ideal
frame, but in practice disciplinary silos generally result in
a range of more fragmented perspectives. Some authors
] have distinguished between the techno-economic,
socio-cultural and bio-ecological elements which go into
environmental decision making. This study takes the per-
spective that these three competing sets (economic, social
and ecological elements) relate to values or norms which
are transcribed into three types of environmental policy,
termed here Practical, Popular and Pure respectively and
that these can be distinguished by their focus on the man-
agement of different ecosystem services or on biodiversity.
Environmental policies with an anthropocentric focus
may be considered Practical. Practical norms are largely
aligned with natural resource management concepts, for
example, management of stocks to meet human ends,
through the exploitation or stewardship of the natural envi-
ronment. These may be loosely aligned with the concept
of economic well-being, where individuals seek to max-
imize their own profits or production. Practical policies
often relate to the systematic use of provisioning ecosys-
tem services. In this analysis policies are considered to
fall into this category if their primary focus is on natural
resource extraction and management.
Some components of conservation or sustainability
resonate more easily with the general public than oth-
ers. Popular norms are defined by their focus on cultural
ecosystem services. This impact of these policies may be
associated with non-use cultural ecosystem services for
example with species that are highly visible, the “warm
glow” [
] of protecting charismatic species, such as the
giant panda, the polar bear or cetaceans, which elicit
strong responses toward conservation. Similarly, sustain-
ability policies which have clear impacts on direct use
cultural services where, public goods are directly used by
individuals without the intermediary of a specific economic
sector (e.g. recreational fishing, swimming), may be con-
sidered popular as they relate to the public good rather
than economic development of any particular specific sec-
tor. The values or cultural ecosystem services associated
with these conservation norms may not necessarily be
aligned with scientific justification (e.g. Potts et al.) [
Regulations and policies, which implicitly focus principally
on cultural ecosystem services or components of ecosys-
tems, which supply these services, are categorised in this
analysis as Popular.
The Pure perspective is encapsulated by the slogan
adopted by the US environmental movement of the early
1970s “we have met the enemy and he is us”. This view-
point considers human activities as inimical to ecosystem
functions, juxtaposing man against nature. The norms as-
sociated with this narrative of purity seeks a return to pre-
anthropogenic disturbance. This concept of naturalness or
purity often represents the norm of the hard environmental
conservationists and, as in the CBD, recognises the “intrin-
sic worth” of the natural environment. Policies which aim
to minimize or eliminate human effects, principally for the
sake of the environment itself or for its ‘intrinsic value’, are
categorised as Pure in this analysis.
Individual pieces of European legislation may be Hy-
brids exhibiting a mixture of the three characteristics de-
scribed above. Table 1 summarises the main pieces of
EU environmental legislation directly related to the aquatic
environments. These pieces of legislation were mapped
against the norms described above based on their relation
to the use of ecosystem services. Policies were classified
as either Practical or Popular where they address manage-
ment of provisioning, or cultural services respectively. The
policies were categorised as Pure where they treat ecolog-
ical integrity as an end in itself, the texts of the legislation
were also analysed for explicit statements relating to eco-
nomic, social, and environmental values. Figure 1 maps
the legislation onto a Venn diagram of the three value sets.
The following section provides an historical narrative on the
development of the legislation over time, under headings of
the three norms.
Table 1.
Major Directives relating to the EU biodiversity
Strategy in the Aquatic environment.
Policy/Directive/Regulation Acronym Year
Common Agricultural Policy CAP 1962
Bathing Water Directive BWD 1976
Birds Directive BD 1979
Common Fisheries Policy CFP 1983
Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive UWWTD 1991
Nitrates Directive ND 1991
Habitats Directive HD 1992
Water Framework Directive WFD 2000
Marine Strategy Framework Directive MSFD 2008
Regulation on Alien Invasive Species IAS 2014
Figure 1.
Venn diagram showing the overlap in values
between different EU environmental directive and policies
relating to the biodiversity in aquatic environments.
2.2. Practical
Though not a policy explicitly directed at the management
of the aquatic environment, agricultural nutrient sources
play a major role in determining European water quality
] and for this reason the Common Agricultural Policy
cannot be omitted from any analysis of aquatic environ-
mental policy in Europe. The CAP, with the aims of achiev-
ing food security in Europe through modernization and
ensuring good prices for farmers, was put in place in 1962
and since its inception food security within Europe has
been maintained [
]. The CAP includes subsidies to farm-
ers as well as import tariffs to ensure prices for European
farmers. The early CAP was criticised as a protection-
ist policy having created price distortions in global food
markets [
] but recent revisions have removed some of
the more distorting subsidies [
]. The CAP has a bud-
get of
362.8 billion (almost 40% of the EU’s budget) to
subsidise agriculture in the period 2014–2020 [
]. In its
current form the policy is comprised of two ‘pillars’, direct
payments or subsidies which make up 70% of the CAP
budget and the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Devel-
opment (EAFRD), which accounts for the remaining 30%
and provides co-funding for national programmes of rural
development [
]. In addition to continued food production,
the most recent reforms in the CAP aimed to encourage
farmers to provide public goods, enhance biodiversity and
play a role in climate mitigation. 30% of direct payments
are now nominally conditional on greening measures, in-
cluding maintenance of permanent grasslands and crop
diversification, in practice most farms, particularly smaller
ones, are exempted from having to take any action to re-
ceive these subsidies [
]. This proportion of the CAP
budget assigned to the production of food (a provisioning
service) clearly categorises the CAP as a Practical policy.
A Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) began to emerge in
the late 1970s as new member states joined the European
Economic Community, catalysing arrangements for existing
member states to gain free access to community fishing
grounds. The CFP was formalised in 1983 [
] and has
subsequently undergone a number of reforms [
]. Fish-
eries under the policy aim to achieve Maximum Sustainable
Yield (MSY). This objective has been criticised both on an
economic basis (theoretically a more efficient fishery would
aim for Maximum Economic Yield) as well as on a technical
basis, achieving MSY in a mixed species fishery is notori-
ously difficult to achieve. The operation of the CFP itself
has also been heavily criticized on many fronts, in particular
for the systematic rejection of scientific advice on catch
levels [
]. In recent years for example catches have on
average been set 20% higher than the scientific advice [
as national political interests try to ensure the best deal for
their national fishing industries. The setting of quotas has
also led to the practice of discarding, which is now banned
under the most recent reforms [
], which marking a shift
toward Ecosystem-based management. There has been
a long history of dysfunction in the CFP, currently 58% of
assessed commercial stocks are considered to be at levels
below levels of MSY [
] though some stocks are beginning
to recover [
]. The target of MSY clearly marks the CFP as
a Practical policy since the aim is to maximize the amounts
of fish extracted from the seas.
The European project was designed as a free trade
organisation to facilitate trade between European nations,
with the goals of averting war mainly through economic
means [
] and ensuring that the major policies controlling
sustainable development continue to have a chiefly eco-
nomic outlook. Figure 2 illustrates the budget breakdown
for sustainable growth and natural resources in the EU for
2015, the total budget is over
55.9 billion. Components of
the CAP combined with those of CFP make up over 99%
(97.5% and 1.68% respectively) of this budget, less than
1% is assigned to other aspects (including environment and
climate programs).
Figure 2. Sustainable growth: natural resources budget for the EU 2015 [52].
Conservation measures under “Greening of the CAP”
and reformed CFP have placed the expectation on farmers
and fishers to be the major agents of biodiversity conserva-
tion. Following half a century of centrally facilitated intensifi-
cation administered at the level of nation states, this marks
a major shift in expectation, which has not been backed up
by institutional support.
2.3. Popular
The first pieces of EU law aimed at improving aquatic envi-
ronmental quality was the Bathing Water Directive. It was
introduced “in order to protect the environment and pub-
lic health” [
]. The directive sets limits on the levels of
bacteria (coliforms and enterococci) which are permitted to
occur at locations designated for public bathing, in fresh and
marine waters. Compliance with the directive has been sup-
ported by the European Commission since 1987 through
the Blue Flag program which promotes public awareness;
beaches which comply with water quality standards (and
certain other criteria) are awarded a blue flag for clean-
liness. The implicit focus of the directive on (direct use)
cultural ecosystem services categorises the Bathing Water
Directive as Popular.
The Birds Directive was established in 1979 [
] and
updated in 2009 [
] to halt the decline in the numbers of
wild bird species in the EU, this trend is largely ascribed to
agricultural intensification [
]. The directive lists various
species which must be conserved (Annex I) and others
which may be harvested subject to certain conditions (An-
nex II) and designates Specially Protected Areas (SPAs).
Both “natural balance” and “cultural heritage” are motiva-
tions for the Directive [
], the latter, illustrates the Popular
nature of the directive. Article 2 of the directive mandates
that bird species are maintained at “a level which corre-
sponds in particular to ecological, scientific and cultural
requirements, while taking account of economic and recre-
ational requirements, or to adapt the population of these
species to that level”. The perspective of the Birds Direc-
tive includes both ecological and cultural considerations
but its focus on “recreational and cultural requirements”, as
well as its scope covering on popularly appealing, charis-
matic species, which provide active and passive use cultural
ecosystem services, makes the case for its inclusion in the
popular set. Despite its early introduction, EU avian biodi-
versity continues to be eroded [57].
2.4. Pure
The Water Framework Directive (WFD) was introduced [
to harmonise the growing body of aquatic environmental leg-
islation. This directive regulates water quality in freshwaters
(rivers, lakes and groundwater) and saltwater (estuarine
and coastal) areas. The goal of the directive is to achieve
or maintain Good Ecological Status, which is defined with
reference to a relatively clean or pristine reference condi-
tion, (determining reference conditions is itself a value laden
process). The directive takes a ‘deconstructing structural’
approach [
] dealing with the characteristics of specific
elements of water quality. These water quality elements
are measured by a suite of indicators which include chem-
ical parameters (concentrations of nutrients and oxygen)
as well as biological parameters such as the composition
of aquatic benthic flora/fauna, fauna the abundance of spe-
cific sensitive insect species for freshwater and benthic
in-fauna in the marine. Given the long history of human
settlement and development in Europe, aquatic ecosys-
tems have been experiencing anthropogenic disturbance
for millennia [
], and to some the goal of good ecological
status is a ‘dream’ [
], particularly given the non-linear
responses of aquatic system to relaxation of anthropogenic
pressures [
]. The WFD permits the designation of heav-
ily modified water bodies, where specified uses of water
bodies (including navigation, hydro-power, and recreation)
would be significantly affected by restoration measures and
no feasible cost-effective option exists that would maintain
these benefits [
]. Nevertheless, since its introduction,
the directive has resulted in a major concerted effort in the
measurement and monitoring for the improvement of the
quality of water bodies around Europe [
]. The norms of
the directive are clearly Pure as they aspire to achieving
pre-anthropogenic conditions, with baseline targets set on
ecological rather than anthropocentric grounds.
2.5. Hybrids
The Nitrates Directive [
] deals directly with the prevention
of undesirable emissions from the “Practical” CAP for the
sake of achieving environmental quality, hence its inclusion
in the subset of Practical and Pure. Measures to ensure
compliance with the nitrates directive include the creation
of buffer strips in farm land to prevent agricultural run-off.
In practice the success of the Nitrates Directive is compli-
cated by the difficulties in enforcement of local actions over
the large spatial scales covered by the Directive [
]. The
nitrates directive is considered to have reduced nitrogen out-
puts from agriculture by between 3% and 19% depending
on the species of nitrogen considered [66].
The Urban Waste-Water Treatment Directives [
(UWWT) provides for end of pipe solutions to the release of
polluted waste waters. The maintenance of clean water has
elements of Practical natural resource management (supply
of a provisioning service for human health) and Popular
aspects in terms of supply of clean water for cultural service
such as bathing and is therefore classified as a hybrid of
practical and pure.
Following its commitments under the CBD, the Habitats
Directive came into force [
]. The directive is concerned
with the development of a network of Special Areas of Con-
servation (SAC) for specific habitat types and species in
which biodiversity is prioritised. The Natura 2000 network,
which is comprised of Habitats Directive SACs and Birds Di-
rective SPAs, is the largest network of reserves in the world,
and its development was seen as a major achievement of
the Biodiversity Action Plan. Sites are designated according
to the presence of particular target habitats or species listed
in the Annexes of the directive. Despite its size the Natura
2000 network has had mixed success; 60% of species and
77% of habitats covered by the directive are reported to be
in unfavourable condition [
]. The Natura 2000 network
has also fallen far short of its targets in assigning protected
status to agricultural areas. On a Europe wide basis only
11.5% of the agricultural area targeted to be designated
as SAC have been assigned [
]. Though the Habitats
Directive arose from the CBD, and was published in the
same year, it may be considered as a hybrid of Pure and
Popular in terms of its norms because it includes a mix of
obscure and popularly unrecognised species (e.g. Dytiscus
latissimus a diving aquatic beetle) which provides neither
cultural nor provisioning services, as well as charismatic
species (for example all species of whales are protected un-
der the directive) and the process of designation of species
for inclusion within the Annexes of the directive, through ex-
pert judgement included value based as well as ecologically
based decisions [70].
The Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) [
aims to achieve Good Environmental Status for each of
11 qualitative descriptors, uniting several environmental di-
rectives for the marine environment, these include WFD,
along with the Nitrates Directive and CAP, the habitats di-
rective and the CFP. The MSFD uses the language of the
ecosystem based approach and recognises the concepts
of ecosystem services and may be seen as a hybrid of all
three norms, with its descriptor on fisheries being aligned
with the practical focus of the CFP, the eutrophication crite-
ria aligned with the Pure focus on the pristine environment
of the WFD while the incorporation of ecosystem services
(including cultural services) recognises the Popular nature
of public goods. In practice, during the first round of appli-
cation, the approach of many member states has been to
collate the measures taken under existing directives and
attribute them as measures in the implementation of the
MSFD. Despite the high goals of the directive economic con-
straints have overridden the incorporation of new measures
to incorporate ecosystem services into implementation in
many cases e.g. [72].
One relatively new initiative under the EU Biodiversity
strategy, and stemming from European obligations under
the CBD has been the introduction of the recent regulation
on Invasive Alien Species (IAS) [
]. For the purposes
of the directive an alien species is “any live specimen of
a species. . . introduced outside of its natural range”. The
objective of the law is “to prevent, minimise and mitigate
the adverse impact on biodiversity of the introduction and
spread of invasive alien species”. This law obliges mem-
ber states to prevent the establishment and control the
spread of non-native species around Europe. The particu-
lar species to be addressed are contained within a list of
European concern. The current, first list [
] differs from
the “list of 100 worst alien invasive species” [
] in that
it omits species, such as the Pacific Oyster (Crassostrea
gigas), which are of economic importance but also consid-
ered invasive. While the language of the directive does
recognise ecosystem service concepts, the emphasis in
ecology on the concept of non-native species and the nar-
rative of invading aliens has been heavily criticised [
and the evolution of invasion science in the 1990s is closely
linked with the coining of the term biodiversity [
]. This reg-
ulation includes some exceptions for species of economic
importance in aquaculture under the Regulation concerning
use of alien and locally absent species in aquaculture [
which provides a loophole to prioritize aquaculture develop-
ment over environmental integrity. While the theory behind
invasive species research certainly falls into the normative
category of Pure, the list of species of union concern also
reflects the practical norm and the regulation may therefore
be seen as a hybrid of Practical and Pure.
3. Conclusions
The use of ecosystem services concepts in the policy anal-
ysis above marks a novel development in methodology for
developing explicit recognition of norms within policy. The
methodology has been used retrospectively to analyse ex-
isting policies. The analysis reveals a range of competing
norms and contradictory objectives in European environ-
mental policy that have emerged reactively over the course
of the formation and development of the EU.
The first EU Biodiversity Action Plan met with limited
success, its target of halting biodiversity loss by 2010 was
not achieved [
], the EU Biodiversity Strategy aims to halt
this loss by 2020. The aim of this paper was to identify
underling norms in EU environmental policy which might
affect implementation of the EU Biodiversity Strategy. The
competing norms underlying EU environmental law have
shifted from the “Practical” through “Popular” toward “Pure”
and increasingly represent a range of norms, but the funda-
mental challenges to achieving sustainability in the frame
of European environmental law remain implicit trade-offs
between Practical provision of food and Pure protection of
Within Europe, the funding available for implementation
for practical policies eclipses funding for focussed environ-
mental legislation. The major relationship between humans
and the environment promoted by EU, the two main Practi-
cal policies (CAP an CFP) is one of consumption. Efforts
to reduce the amount of environmental damage of the ma-
jor Practical policies have been compromised by political
negotiation to ensure the economic livelihoods of small
farmers and of fishers. As demonstrated by negotiations
in the CAP and CFP, politicians, on a five-year re-election
cycle lack the agency to impose costs on their constituents
for the purposes of poorly understood concepts such as
biodiversity and ecosystem services. For fisheries and agri-
culture, despite recent reform, economic gains are more
immediately felt than environmental gains, and production
of private goods is more profitable than production of public
ones. Under the current system food production is favoured
over biodiversity conservation, and conservation is gener-
ally economically irrational, that is, individuals do not stand
to increase their own economic welfare by protecting the
environment. Strategies for incorporating effective biodiver-
sity conservation into the Practical polices are therefore a
clear area for targeted further research.
The “intrinsic worth” of biodiversity, as articulated by
the CBD, is not necessarily self-evident, and there are not
clear links between all components of nature and well-being.
Though limited data exist at the European scale, at least for
the marine environment, public understanding and aware-
ness of environmental problems is poor [
]. This imbal-
ance could be redressed through education to develop pub-
lic understanding of the benefits of nature, to better align
the Popular and Pure environmental norms.
The emerging focus on ecosystem services for exam-
ple in the MSFD may provide a mechanism to balance
these trade-offs. While full accounting for ecosystem ser-
vice values and internalisation within European policy can
in theory more fully elucidate and re-balance these trade-
offs, (as advocated by the MSFD) scientific understanding
of the role of biodiversity in the supply of ecosystem ser-
vices remains low [
]. Scientists therefore have a role
in elucidating these links through further research and ef-
fectively communicating their findings to a policy makers
and to the public.
In contrast to funding for rural development and fisheries
exploitation, at the European level there is no dedicated
centralised organisation for the funding enforcement of en-
vironmental legislation. While the European Environment
Agency has a duty to support sustainable development and
to help achieve significant and measurable improvement in
Europes environment through the provision of timely, tar-
geted, relevant and reliable information to policy-making
agents and the public”. it has no mandate or means to
enforce regulation. This responsibility instead falls to na-
tional and local governments. Existing legislation might be
enforced more effectively through rebalancing the sustain-
able growth budget toward centralised financial support for
environmental protection outside of the sectoral CAP and
CFP policies.
Even within environmental legislation loopholes exist,
the designation of heavily modified water bodies, the excep-
tions in the IAS regulation, the trade-off between economy
and environment have already been made at the legislative
and policy level.
4. Outlook
4.1. Agency and Irrational Trade-offs
At the individual level the goal of halting biodiversity loss,
along with achieving the other indivisible SDGs come down
to choices in consumption. In order to achieve these goals
European individuals may be required, to make personal
sacrifices for long term, greater good, to act against short-
term self-interest in the cause of equity. Reducing levels
of consumption may require individuals to make choices
from which they personally do not benefit. This is a “wicked
problem” it requires moral judgements and result in winners
and losers. While science, can expose the resource con-
straints of a finite planet [
] it is not best suited to making
moral choices or subjective decisions as it has sometimes
attempted (e.g. [8,9,82]).
In this case agency requires an organisation which can
effectively encourage individuals to make personal sacri-
fices, moral not rational choices. Markets discourage such
moral behaviours [
], and the precursors of modern sus-
tainability science has had a chequered past in this area of
morality. Traditionally religious institutions could encourage
or impose such choices about consumption and the major
European religious institutes are beginning to engage with
the environment as a moral issue [84].
This history of European environmental legislation pro-
vides evidence that European approaches toward sustain-
ability are evolving, and that some achievements have been
made, for example with the shift towards the concepts of
ecosystem based management under the MSFD, it also
suggests that major challenges to achieving the SDGs lie
ahead. Whether the European Union (with its origins as a
trading organisation) has the will, or the mandate to make
the changes to key Practical policies or to force the diffi-
cult trade-offs between consumption and biodiversity that
are required to meet the mission of the SDGs and of the
Biodiversity Strategy remains to be seen.
The identification of competing norms and contradictory
principals in this analysis provides a starting point from
which European institutions can build policy coherency. The
method may facilitate the proactive adaptation of existing
policies and the design of new types of policy that more
fully recognise and integrate the multiple Practical, Popular
and Pure objectives and norms which are reflected in the
SDGs and which are required to meet the goals of halting
biodiversity loss in Europe.
In order to develop a truly integrated and effective ap-
proach to meeting the targets of the EU Biodiversity Strat-
egy the norms relating to the provisioning and cultural
ecosystem services of the Practical and Popular sets should
be aligned with the policies of the Pure set. We need to
make Pure more Popular, by improving public understand-
ing of the environment (and thereby increasing cultural
ecosystem services) and Practical more Pure by finding
techniques of resource extraction that are less destructive.
Explicit consideration of these differing norms provides a
basis for further analysis. Ecosystem services concepts
offer one potential avenue for moving past trade-offs be-
tween economic gain versus “intrinsic” worth, yet difficult
trade-offs may still remain. European policy makers, sci-
entists, educators and religious institutions all have roles
to play and Europe may need to re-engage with concepts
of morality rather than economy or ecology to achieve its
conservation goals.
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