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Brussels, 16 December 2008

Environment: major additional effort needed to halt biodiversity loss by 2010

The EU will fail to meet its target of halting the loss of biodiversity by 2010 unless there is significant additional effort over the next two years. This is the key conclusion of the first comprehensive assessment of progress in implementing a Biodiversity Action Plan to halt biodiversity loss in the EU. Despite some encouraging results, notably with the further extension of the Natura 2000 network of protected areas and important investments in biodiversity, the integration of biodiversity and ecosystem concerns into other sectoral policies remains an important challenge. The new Communication from the Commission identifies priorities for further action.

"This continuing loss of biodiversity is critical, not just because of the intrinsic value of nature, but also because of the resulting decline in vital ‘ecosystem services.’ We have set an ambitious biodiversity target for 2010, we know what needs to be done and we have the tools to achieve this. I therefore call on all Member States to redouble their efforts to sustain the variety of life, and the health of the ecosystems that underpin our prosperity and well being” said Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas.

An enormous effort required

In 2006, the European Commission produced an Action Plan to halt biodiversity loss by 2010, setting out concrete actions and outlining the responsibility of Community institutions and Member States. Today's report is an overview of progress, and represents the last real opportunity for stock-taking before 2010. The report studies four main policy areas: biodiversity in the EU, the EU and global biodiversity, biodiversity and climate change, and the knowledge base. A summary of progress in each Member State is included for the first time.

The main conclusions are that an enormous effort will be required if the EU is to meet its 2010 target, and that intensive efforts will be needed, at the level of both the European Community and the Member States, if the EU is to even approach its objective.

EU policies and legislation already provide a strong basis to address the biodiversity challenge but they need to be effectively implemented. The new assessment highlights priority measures for the coming years. These range from more action to manage and restore sites in the Natura 2000 network to restoring ecosystem health and services in the wider EU countryside and in freshwater and marine environments.

Biodiversity in the European Union

There are many positive elements in the assessment. Targeted actions to reverse the decline of endangered species and habitats have been successful, but these need to be replicated on a much larger scale. The Natura 2000 network has been significantly extended and now comprises more than 25 000 sites, covering 17% of the EU land territory, but additional efforts are needed to finalise the network, especially for marine protected areas.

There is progress too in the protection of marine and freshwater ecosystems, notably with the adoption of the new Marine Strategy Directive, although the failure to adopt the Soil Framework Directive leaves a major legislative gap. The Commission recently presented options for an EU strategy to address the increasing threat of invasive species.

Member States are increasingly making use of EU funds to support nature and biodiversity, especially in relation to agriculture and regional development policies, although the real benefits for biodiversity remain to be determined. Further work is also needed to better integrate biodiversity considerations into different sectoral policies.

The EU and Global Biodiversity

Outside the EU, global biodiversity loss is running at unprecedented levels, with ecosystems frequently degraded to crisis point. New issues such as biofuels and food security have emerged as major challenges to sustainable development. An ongoing study on the economics of ecosystems and biodiversity, initiated by the European Commission and Germany, will help decision makers direct more attention to this issue and the link to poverty eradication. There is also a need to enhance understanding of the impact of EU consumption of food and non-food commodities such as soy beans, palm oil and metal ore, and of how it contributes to global biodiversity loss.

Biodiversity and climate change

The report calls for wider recognition of the critical role ecosystems play in strengthening resilience to environmental stress and reducing exposure to climate change. In 2009 the Commission will issue a white paper on adapting to climate change that should strengthen the synergies between biodiversity and climate change policy.

The knowledge base

Given the critical importance of knowledge to support the development of biodiversity policy there is a continuing need to ensure that adequate funding levels are provided at both Community and Member State level. The Commission also supports the proposal to establish an Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystems Services (IPBES), to strengthen independent scientific advice to global policy making.

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