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This strategy, which was set up in 1998, lays down a general framework for developing Community policies and instruments to fulfil the Community's obligations under the Rio de Janeiro Convention on Biological Diversity. It is developed around four major themes, with specific objectives being determined and implemented for each by means of action plans.
Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament of 4 February 1998 on a European Community biodiversity strategy [COM(1998) 42 - not published in the Official Journal].
In this Communication, the Commission emphasises that the world's biodiversity (species, ecosystems and genetic heritage) is currently in rapid decline, and that this trend has accelerated in recent decades, Europe being no exception. It states that the principal reason for the decline is the impact of human activity, including certain agricultural practices, increased infrastructure and urbanisation, mass tourism as well as water pollution.
The international community reacted by adopting the Rio de Janeiro Convention on Biodiversity in 1992, which the European Community ratified in 1993 (see below, "Related Acts"). The Convention recommends that strategies be adopted which aim, among other things, to ensure the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity.
The objective of this strategy is to anticipate and prevent significant reduction in or loss of biodiversity and to tackle its root causes. It creates the framework within which policies and Community instruments will be adopted to ensure that the Convention on Biodiversity is implemented.
The strategy is based on four main themes reflecting the principal obligations which the Community assumes under the Convention on Biodiversity. It also specifies the objectives which need to be met to fulfil these obligations. The themes are as follows: conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity; sharing of benefits arising out of the utilisation of genetic resources; research, identification, monitoring and exchange of information; education, training and awareness.
As far as the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity is concerned, the strategy recommends in situ (i.e. within the natural environment) and ex situ (i.e. in gene banks, laboratories, zoos and botanical gardens) conservation of species and ecosystems. This objective is to be achieved both by rebuilding ecosystems and populations and by protecting cultivated or domesticated species which have acquired particular genetic characteristics.
This objective also involves assessing activities which have an impact on biodiversity and minimising these impacts through incentives and bans, with the aim of promoting the sustainable use of the constituent elements of biodiversity.
As far as the sharing of benefits accruing from the use of genetic resources is concerned, the EU should promote cooperation between countries in order to guarantee access to natural resources, technology transfer and scientific and technical cooperation. The Convention reaffirms the sovereignty of the Parties over their resources but also states that the Parties must not impose inappropriate restrictions on access to those resources.
Efforts in the areas of research, identification, monitoring and exchange of information must be stepped up to ensure that the Convention is implemented successfully. In this context, particular attention must be given to projects aiming to further increase specialist knowledge and projects relating to the pooling of information and the development of indicators.
In order to change human perceptions and behaviour and bring about a greater understanding of the importance of protecting biodiversity, the strategy aims to emphasise education, training and awareness-building aimed both at the general public and at those responsible for implementing measures relating to the strategy.
The strategy details the specific fields of activity and the objectives which need to be achieved in each of these fields. The fields and corresponding main objectives are as follows:
- Conservation of natural resources: to establish and implement the "Natura 2000" network, protect certain vulnerable species, implement instruments such as the Water Framework Directive, develop international synergies, combat climate change, etc.
- Agriculture: to reinforce conservation of genetic resources valuable as food sources, promote good agricultural practices which contribute towards the preservation of genetic diversity and the reduction of pollution especially by linking agricultural support to ecological criteria, step up agri-environmental measures, promote trade policies which encourage respect for biodiversity, etc.
- Fisheries: to foster practices which help to ensure the conservation and sustainable use of fish stocks and practices which have a limited impact on coastal and marine ecosystems, to increase protection of aquatic areas which are of particular ecological interest, etc.
- Regional policies and spatial planning: to promote spatial planning measures which help to protect biodiversity, especially in corridors connecting protected areas, in rural areas and in sensitive, unprotected areas, to guarantee that environmental considerations are taken into account in the funding of projects under the Structural Funds, etc.
- Forests: to ensure that forest management practices neither have a negative impact on biodiversity nor on the ecological quality of the areas concerned and that reforestation takes place, to foster research and impact assessment, etc.
- Energy and transport: to combat acidification and climate change, limit the negative impacts of infrastructure development, find the best energy sources, etc.
- Tourism: to promote ecologically sustainable tourism, identify environment- and biodiversity-related tourist attractions, etc.
- Development and economic cooperation: to integrate the objectives of biodiversity conservation into development and economic cooperation, promote the sustainable use of natural resources in developing countries, ensure the coordination and complementarity of national (including third countries), international and Community measures, etc.
In order to achieve the above-mentioned objectives, the strategy recommends that sectoral action plans should be drawn up and applied in the areas of protection of natural resources, agriculture, fisheries and development and economic cooperation. The other sectors of activity will not be included in the action plans but will be integrated into existing instruments or dealt with individually, e.g. within the framework of the European Union Forestry Strategy or the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy.