EU Science Hub

Mapping and Assessment of Ecosystems and their Services: An EU ecosystem assessment

Abstract: 

This report presents an ecosystem assessment covering the total land area of the EU as well as the EU marine regions. The assessment is carried out by Joint Research Centre, European Environment Agency, DG Environment, and the European Topic Centres on Biological Diversity and on Urban, Land and Soil Systems. This report constitutes a knowledge base which can support the evaluation of the 2020 biodiversity targets. It also provides a data foundation for future assessments and policy developments, in particular with respect to the ecosystem restoration agenda for the next decade (2020-2030). The report presents an analysis of the pressures and condition of terrestrial, freshwater and marine ecosystems using a single, comparable methodology based on European data on trends of pressures and condition relative to the policy baseline 2010. The following main conclusions are drawn: - Pressures on ecosystems exhibit different trends. - Land take, atmospheric emissions of air pollutants and critical loads of nitrogen are decreasing but the absolute values of all these pressures remain too high. - Impacts from climate change on ecosystems are increasing. - Invasive alien species of union concern are observed in all ecosystems, but their impact is particularly high in urban ecosystems and grasslands. - Pressures from overfishing activities and marine pollution are still high. - In the long term, air and freshwater quality is improving. - In forests and agroecosystems, which represent over 80% of the EU territory, there are improvements in structural condition indicators (biomass, deadwood, area under organic farming) relative to the baseline year 2010 but some key bio-indicators such as tree-crown defoliation continue to increase. This indicates that ecosystem condition is not improving. - Species-related indicators show no progress or further declines, particularly in agroecosystems. The analysis of trends in ecosystem services concluded that the current potential of ecosystems to deliver timber, protection against floods, crop pollination, and nature-based recreation is equal to or lower than the baseline value for 2010. At the same time, the demand for these services has significantly increased. A lowered potential in combination with a higher demand risks to further decrease the condition of ecosystems and their contribution to human well-being. Despite the wide coverage of environmental legislation in the EU, there are still large gaps in the legal protection of ecosystems. On land, 76% of the area of terrestrial ecosystems, mainly forests, agroecosystems and urban ecosystems, are excluded from a legal designation under the Bird and Habitat Directives. Freshwater and marine ecosystems are subject to specific protection measures under the Water Framework and Marine Strategy Framework Directives. The condition of ecosystems that are under legal designation is unfavourable. More efforts are needed to bend the curve of biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation and to put ecosystems on a path to recovery. The progress that is made in certain areas such as pollution reduction, increasing air and water quality, increasing share of organic farming, the expansion of forests, and the efforts to maintain marine fish stocks at sustainable levels show that a persistent implementation of policies can be effective. These successes should encourage us to act now and to put forward an ambitious plan for the restoration of Europe’s ecosystems.