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Safeguarding and enhancing Europe's nature demands much more decisive action

29/01/2016
field margin planted with wildflowers

A mid-term review of the EU's Biodiversity Strategy released in October underlines the need for increased efforts to halt biodiversity loss by 2020.

 

The EU Biodiversity Strategy, developed by the Commission in cooperation with the Member States in 2011, set a headline target of halting the loss of biodiversity by 2020, as compared to a 2010 baseline, with six operational targets and 20 actions.

There is no room for complacency – losing biodiversity means losing our life-support system.

Karmenu Vella, European Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries

Halfway towards the target date, a mid-term review published in October notes some progress in implementing actions under all targets. A number of new policy frameworks are now in place, such as the reformed common agricultural policy and common fisheries policy, the Regulation on Invasive Alien Species, the Access and Benefit-Sharing Regulation, and the EU Green Infrastructure Strategy.

But as the report makes clear, meeting the headline target will require considerably bolder implementation and enforcement efforts, especially for nature legislation. It will also need effective integration of biodiversity into a range of other policies, and coherent priorities underpinned by adequate funding in areas such as marine, fisheries, regional development and trade, and above all in the agriculture and forestry sectors, which together account for 80 % of land use in the EU.

“There are plenty of lessons to be drawn from this report – some good progress, and good examples to be emulated, but much more work is needed to close the gaps and reach our biodiversity targets by 2020. There is no room for complacency – losing biodiversity means losing our life-support system. We can't afford that, and neither can our economy,” said Karmenu Vella, European Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries.

Protecting nature brings economic benefits

There is much to gain from delivering on the targets, as biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation are estimated to cost the EU up to 3 % of its GDP every year. At around EUR 5.8 billion, the annual costs of maintaining Natura 2000 – the EU-wide network of protected areas developed under the Birds and Habitats Directives – are a fraction of the economic benefits it provides, worth EUR 200-300 billion every year. The wide range of services provided by nature – flood mitigation, soil fertility, pollination, water and air purification, carbon storage, health and recreation – depend on the network of protected areas as well as on the sustainable use of the rest of Europe’s terrestrial and marine environment.

There are numerous tools available to support and restore nature and the services it provides, such as making full use of the biodiversity measures in the reformed Common Agricultural Policy, extending green infrastructure and restoring natural habitats. Full integration with sector policies will require further work to improve knowledge and increase decision-makers' awareness of the essential contribution of biodiversity and ecosystem services to our economy.

Measurable progress

The mid-term review observes some progress towards implementing EU nature legislation (target 1), restoring ecosystems and their services (target 2), and making fisheries sustainable (target 4), thanks to the reformed EU common fisheries policy and the Marine Strategy Framework Directive. While the reformed CAP provides many opportunities for enhancing biodiversity, the rate of their take-up is a cause of concern. The policy framework for combating invasive alien species (target 5) has been established. EU efforts to avert global biodiversity loss (target 6) have resulted in considerably increased financial resources for global biodiversity and integration of biodiversity provisions into trade agreements. However, the impact of EU consumption patterns on global biodiversity still needs to be addressed.

The report acknowledges that policy frameworks have been put in place and many local conservation successes have been achieved. However, these examples need to be scaled up to have a measurable impact on the overall trends.

Key trends

The review draws on the 2015 State of Nature in the EU Report, which showed less than a quarter of species of European interest in a favourable situation. Nearly half are in an unfavourable status, with just 4 % showing signs of improvement.

As regards habitats of European importance, 16 % are in a favourable status; more than two thirds are in an unfavourable status, and nearly half of these are deteriorating.

The outlook is brighter for birds, with over half of the species enjoying a secure population status, although 20 % are not secure and declining in numbers. In particular, common bird species linked to agricultural ecosystems continue to decline.

The Natura 2000 network now covers 18 % of EU land surface. Coverage of marine areas is increasing but more progress is needed.

The most significant impacts on biodiversity to date have resulted from habitat loss and change through urban sprawl, infrastructure expansion, agricultural intensification and land abandonment. Overexploitation and pollution are also factors, and climate change and invasive species are fast-growing threats. While some ecosystem services such as timber production and carbon sequestration from forests have increased, others, such as pollination, are declining. Meanwhile, the ecological footprint of the EU is over twice the size of its bio-capacity.

Public support

According to a 2015 survey, eight out of 10 Europeans believe that biodiversity loss has serious effects, and more than three quarters feel that humans should look after nature and prevent biodiversity loss. More than 90 % of people think the EU should inform citizens better about the importance of biodiversity.

The Commission is carrying out an evaluation (i.e. 'Fitness Check') of the Habitats and Birds Directives to assess their suitability to achieve their ambitious goals. In a recent online consultation, more than 500 000 citizens expressed support for EU nature legislation.

 

Nature and Biodiversity