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Plan to protect species and habitats - 03/05/2011

A common frog (Rana temporaria) looks out from a British pond © istock/Alasdair Thomson

New approach to maintaining biodiversity aims to bring down high species-extinction rates by 2020, restore natural ecosystems in the EU as far as possible, and contribute more to averting a global problem.

Global biodiversity - the wide range of ecosystems, species and genetic differences - is under threat. Species extinction rates are extremely high - between 100 and 1 000 times the natural rate.

Within the EU, only 17% of species and habitats and 11% of EU-protected ecosystems are doing well. The rest are under pressure, mainly from human activities, or are in decline. For example, a quarter of animal species face the risk of extinction, including the Mediterranean monk seal, the Iberian lynx and the Karpathos frog.

Diminishing biodiversity is an enormous loss - damaging the natural systems our societies and economies depend on. Alongside climate change, it is the biggest environmental challenge the world faces.

A fresh approach

The EU's approach to tackling biodiversity loss over the previous decade was too wide-ranging and not effective enough. It failed to reach the EU's shared goal of halting further losses. A new strategy , running until 2020, focuses more tightly on six priority targets and related measures. These are aimed at:

  • enforcing EU laws protecting birds and habitats
  • maintaining and improving ecosystems - restoring at least 15% of areas that have been damaged
  • getting farming and forestry to help improve biodiversity
  • ensuring sustainable use of fisheries resources by reducing catches to scientifically determined limits by 2015 - 88% of the EU's fish stocks are currently over-exploited or are significantly depleted
  • combating alien species that invade habitats - and currently threaten 22% of the EU's indigenous species
  • stepping up the EU's contribution to preventing global biodiversity loss

The strategy is in line with the EU's international commitments under the UN convention on biological diversity, which include a set of global targets for 2020.

It also aims to meet the targets set by the EU's resource-efficient Europe initiative.

An EU-level approach is needed to help governments coordinate their actions to address a shared problem. It will build on the Natura 2000 network of 25 000 nature-protection areas, which cover 18% of the EU.

The proposal next goes to the European Parliament and EU governments for discussion and endorsement.

More on biodiversity

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