Brussels, 28 April 2009.
A European Commission conference on biodiversity in Athens has issued a forward-looking message regarding the future biodiversity policy of the European Union. Key findings include the need to improve communication about the loss and its consequences, the importance of thinking about ecosystem protection rather than species protection, and the need to ensure that available funds are indeed channelled towards nature protection projects. Scientists acknowledge that biodiversity is in crisis around the world, and that too little is being done to protect it. Europe has a target date of 2010 for halting biodiversity loss in the EU, and while some progress has been made in halting the decline, the original target is unlikely to be met. The Commission called a conference in Athens to examine ways of improving its performance.
EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said: "Biodiversity is life – beautiful, precious and fragile. But is also the basis of our economic and social well- being. This is not widely enough recognised and valued. As a result, it is in serious decline. The fact is that biodiversity loss poses a threat every bit as worrying as climate change. The Message from Athens underlines that biodiversity needs to become a universal political priority, because only then will we have a realistic chance of stopping biodiversity loss."
A eight-point plan for nature protection
A wealth of new ideas was discussed at the conference, leading up to the message from Athens. The main points of the message are :
1. A vision of why biodiversity matters. A better understanding is needed of the fact that healthy ecosystems deliver tangible benefits underpinning our economic, social and cultural well-being. The message of "why biodiversity matters" needs to be clear and made more prominent.
2. A better understanding of where we are and what we need to do. Better information on the state of biodiversity and current trends in biodiversity is crucial. A better understanding of how natural systems work is also needed. The conference recommended that biodiversity research should be made a higher priority.
3. A fully functioning network of protected areas. One of the great successes of recent years has been the consolidation of Natura 2000, Europe's network of protected areas. The terrestrial part of the network should be completed by 2010 and the marine part soon after.
4. Protecting "ordinary" biodiversity in Europe. The statement stresses that biodiversity policy should evolve towards the protection of the resilience and vitality of entire ecosystems, as well as high nature value protected areas.
5. Protecting global biodiversity. Europe's "biodiversity footprint" in the rest of the world is large and is growing, and this needs to be addressed. Global deforestation must be stopped by 2030, and measures are needed to address the impact of European patterns of consumption on global biodiversity loss.
6. Integration of biodiversity into other policy areas. The message recognizes the importance of integrating that biodiversity concerns into other policy areas. More research is needed to identify areas where greater account needs to be taken of biodiversity impacts.
7. Funding. Although many EU and national funds can theoretically channel funds toward biodiversity protection, the actual level of financial resources allocated to nature protection remains relatively small. This needs to be addressed, and new funding made available if necessary.
8. Climate Change. We cannot solve biodiversity loss without addressing climate change and vice versa. We therefore need to look for the “triple win” of biodiversity that can actively contribute to climate mitigation and adaptation. This presupposes that climate measures are fully compatible with policies for the protection of biodiversity.
The Athens conference (Biodiversity protection beyond 2010: priorities and options for future EU policy) was attended by leading scientists, politicians, economists and academics from all EU Member States, and by representatives from civil society and business. Environment Commissioner Dimas welcomed the Prime Minister of the Republic of Greece, Dr Kostas Karamanlis and Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, among other dignitaries. The six workshops, chaired by leading experts in the field, ensured that the various aspects of biodiversity policies were examined in full. Europe has an independent commitment to halt biodiversity loss in the EU by 2010, and a biodiversity action plan with more than 150 actions to help it reach that target. But a recent review concluded that the target was unlikely to be reached without a substantial additional effort.
The Message from Athens.
The objective of halting biodiversity loss remains as valid today as it did in 2001 when it was adopted by European Heads of State and Government.
Progress has been made over recent years at the EU level. Covering 17% of EU territory, NATURA 2000 is the largest network of protected areas in the world and is, without question, one of the most significant achievements in EU environment policy. The legal protection of the Birds and Habitats Directives has stopped the destruction of many unique natural areas and EU funding has played a critical role in protecting some of our most endangered species and habitats. Water quality has also improved significantly and sustainable agricultural practices have become increasingly widespread. The Commission has launched new initiatives to tackle illegal logging, to combat global deforestation and to promote sustainable consumption and production.
At the same time scientific indicators show that the EU’s 2010 target will not be met. The speed and scale of the loss of biodiversity means that urgent actions are needed. The Message from Athens aims to identify the priorities and options for future EU policy.
There are strong ethical and moral arguments for protecting biodiversity. It is a part of our culture and our history. But, on their own, these arguments have not been sufficient to protect nature. There is increasing recognition that the benefits that human society derives from nature have a very high value and that sustainable human development is dependent upon the continued delivery of these benefits. The true value of these benefits is not reflected in conventional models of economic growth and until this basic failing is addressed, biodiversity will continue to be lost.
There is a very close relationship between climate change and biodiversity. Climate change will have a profound impact upon ecosystems including major shifts in the distribution of habitat types and species. Healthy resilient ecosystems play a major and cost effective role in mitigating, and adapting to the consequences of, climate change.
The way that EU policies relating to agriculture, fisheries, regional development, transport, energy, trade and development are implemented have significant impacts upon EU and global biodiversity. In many of these policy areas progress has been made in integrating biodiversity concerns, but much remains to be done.
EU environmental legislation has contributed significantly to the conservation of biodiversity. However, to be more effective, the separate pieces of legislation should be implemented in a more integrated and co-ordinated manner. A coherent approach to spatial planning needs to be developed and, in particular, the Natura 2000 network should be completed, managed effectively and resourced appropriately.
At a global level, where the target is to significantly reduce the current rate of biodiversity loss, the EU has taken a leading role. However, the impact of European consumption on global biodiversity is an issue that needs to be addressed and biodiversity conservation needs to be integrated more effectively into all the EU's policies that have an impact at the global level.
Priorities for EU Action
One: a vision of why biodiversity matters
Two: a better understanding of where we are
and what more we need to do
Three: a fully functioning network of protected areas
Protected areas contain our most precious species and ecosystems. They represent the foundation of biodiversity conservation in Europe and their effectiveness has been scientifically proven. The EU institutions and Member States should:
Four: biodiversity outside of protected areas
Protected areas are essential – but they do not exist in isolation from the rest of the landscape. The state of biodiversity to be found in urban gardens, parks and green spaces, as well as rural areas, is extremely important especially as this is the biodiversity that most of the European population is aware of and can contribute to.
The EU institutions and Member States should:
Five: Biodiversity and Climate Change
We cannot halt biodiversity loss without addressing climate change, but it is equally impossible to tackle climate change without addressing biodiversity loss. It is therefore essential that climate change policy is fully complementary with biodiversity policy. The EU institutions and the Member States should:
Six: global biodiversity
At a global level, the EU is a leading player with a significant influence in international discussions. However, Europe's consumption patterns mean that our "biodiversity" footprint” in third countries is large and is growing. The EU institutions and Member States should:
Seven: integration of biodiversity into other policy areas
Effective integration of biodiversity concerns into other policies is needed to (i) minimise damage (ii) maximise the positive contribution to nature conservation objectives and (iii) realise the potential of co-benefits resulting from the maintenance and enhancement of healthy ecosystems. To improve upon existing initiatives the EU institutions and the Member States should:
Many EU and national funds open the possibility of providing financial support for protecting biodiversity. However, the actual level of financial resources allocated to biodiversity conservation remains small (especially when compared to the welfare benefits that ecosystem services provide). The EU institutions and the Member States should: