Brussels - EU environment ministers have adopted a biodiversity strategy aimed at protecting ecosystems, a move deemed essential to tackling climate change and reducing the risk of future pandemics.
Meeting in Luxembourg, the 27 national ministers on Friday backed the EU Commission's strategy of placing at least 30 percent of the EU's land maritime areas under special protection.
The objective will be reached "with all member states participating in this joint effort", the joint statement said.
"The Covid-19 pandemic has once again shown us the fundamental importance of ecosystems and biodiversity for our health and economic and social stability," said German environment minister Svenja Schulze.
"Biodiversity is our life insurance: it supplies clean air and water, food, building material and clothing. It creates jobs and livelihoods. With the destruction of nature there is also the risk of disease outbreaks and pandemics," she added.
The European governments now expect the EU Commission -- the bloc's executive arm -- to integrate the biodiversity policy objectives in relevant future legislative proposals.
The joint statement stressed the need "to fully integrate these objectives into other sectors such as agriculture, fisheries and forestry".
It also said member states wanted some EU climate action funding to be directed to biodiversity programmes.
A report published Monday by the European Environment Agency (EEA) warned that more than 80 percent of the European Union's natural habitats were in poor or bad condition.
"We clearly need a large-scale restoration in Europe," EEA expert Carlos Romao, one of the authors of the report, said at the time.
- 'Beacon of hope' -
Friday's EU initiative received a cautious welcome from environmental groups.
"Today's endorsement is a much-needed beacon of hope," the WWF said in a statement.
But the group said the EU ministers had "failed to make real progress on the EU climate law, ignoring the European Parliament's recent support for a 60 percent emissions reduction target for 2030".
Strong differences remain between member states on that issue, with Poland leading a group of countries who believe that such a cut, or the 55 percent from 1990 standards put forward by the Commission for 2030, are not feasible for economies reliant on carbon fuel.
The current agreed drop is 40 percent.
The European Parliament also easily passed a massive farm subsidy bill on Friday, to the fury of environmental activists who say it fell well short of EU commitments to fight climate change.
"It's five minutes to midnight on the climate emergency clock, but our governments are stalling," said Greenpeace EU climate policy adviser Sebastian Mang.
"Meanwhile, the gas industry, the industrial farming lobby, airlines and carmakers are shooting holes in the EU Green Deal, and our chance of a safe climate for people and nature is fading."