Biodiversity Loss: Facts and Figures
European Commission - MEMO/04/27 09/02/2004
Brussels, 9 February 2004
Biodiversity Loss: Facts and Figures
What is biodiversity loss?
From the time when humans first occupied Earth and began to hunt animals, gather food and chop wood, they have had an impact on biodiversity. Over the last two centuries, human population growth, overexploitation of natural resources and environmental degradation have resulted in an ever accelerating decline in global biodiversity. Species are diminishing in numbers and becoming extinct, and ecosystems are suffering damage and disappearing.
Biodiversity - short for biological diversity - means the diversity of life in all its forms - the diversity of species, of genetic variations within one species, and of ecosystems.
How many species are threatened with extinction?
12,259 species are known by IUCN, the World Conservation Body, to be threatened with extinction. IUCN keeps the world's inventory of the conservation status of animals and plants, compiling data from thousands of scientists and conservationists worldwide.
However, the 12,259 threatened species are only the tip of the iceberg. Nobody knows how many species there are on Earth, let alone how they are doing. The total number of recorded living species is around 1.75 million. But more than two thirds are insects and other invertebrates, which are extremely difficult to monitor. An estimate of the real number of species on Earth is 14 million.
For its 2003 "Red List of Threatened Species", IUCN was able to evaluate the conservation status of 2% of 1.53 million species for which it has descriptions. The only two well-monitored groups are birds and mammals, so IUCN was able to evaluate 100% of birds and 99% of mammals for threatened status.
The continent of Europe is estimated to be home to more than 200,000 animal and plant species. These are relatively small numbers compared with other regions of the world, but the proportion of threatened species is far higher.
Western Europe's population density and level of industrialisation have seriously impaired biodiversity.
How are ecosystems doing?
Ecosystems are self-regulating communities of plants and animals interacting with each other and with their non-living environment - forests, wetlands, mountains, lakes, rivers, deserts and agricultural landscapes. Ecosystems are vulnerable to interference as pressure on one component can upset the whole balance. They are also very vulnerable to pollution. Many ecosystems have already been lost, and many others are at risk.
The world's forests house about half of global biodiversity. But they are disappearing at a rate of 0.8% per year. Tropical forests are vanishing at an annual rate of 4%.
Why do we need biodiversity?
Humans are dependent on biodiversity. It provides us with food, medicines and raw materials, and delivers many other goods and services that we need. Forests, for example, provide us with wood, oxygenate the air, purify water, prevent erosion and flooding, moderate climate, turn waste into nutrients or raw materials such as oil and gas.
What are the main threats to biodiversity?
What is the EU doing?
1979 "Birds Directive" - first EU law designed to preserve the natural environment, identifying 181 vulnerable bird species native to the EU and obliging Member States to create "Special Protection Areas" (SPA) to safeguard them. Today, the SPAs are part of the Natura 2000 network.
1992 "Habitats Directive" - listing 700 (by now 800) animal and plant species and 200 habitat types of EU importance. They are to be protected in "Special Areas of Conservation" (SAC), which Member States select together with the European Commission. The Habitats Directive also initiates the establishment of the Natura 2000 network, which is made up of SPAs and SACs.
1992 LIFE-Nature programme is launched to co-finance projects aimed at conserving the natural environment and supporting the implementation of the Birds and Habitats Directives.
1992 Convention of Biodiversity adopted during the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. The European Community is a signatory. The Convention's three main goals are: 1. the conservation of biodiversity, 2. the sustainable use of its components, and 3. the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising from the commercial and other utilisation of genetic resources.
1998 EU Biodiversity Strategy - seeks to anticipate, prevent and fight the causes of biodiversity loss at source.
2000 EU Water Framework Directive - aims to protect the aquatic environment and ensure good quality of all water resources in the EU by 2015, based on sustainable cross-border water management.
2001 Four Biodiversity Action Plans - setting out the details for implementation of the Biodiversity Strategy and tackling conservation issues in the areas of agriculture, fisheries, natural resource use and economic and development co-operation. The objective is to ensure that policies in these sectors do not undermine conservation efforts.
2001 EU Sustainable Development Strategy launched by EU leaders meeting in Gothenburg - one of its four priorities is to halt biodiversity loss in the EU by 2010.
2002 Reform of the Common Fisheries Policies to achieve sustainability of fish stocks, protect the marine environment and secure the future of the European fisheries sector.
2002 Strong EU participation in the World Summit on Sustainable Development, ensuring a number of concrete targets and timetables, including the goal to significantly reduce global biodiversity loss by 2010.
2003 Kiev Resolution on Biodiversity - at a meeting of pan-European Environment Ministers in Kiev, Ukraine, the EU commits itself to halting the loss of biodiversity in the pan-European region by 2010 by taking nine specific actions.
2003 Mid-term review of the Common Agricultural Policies cuts the link between subsidies and production levels and makes greater provisions for support to rural development and agri-environment schemes.
2003 In line with the provisions of the Biodiversity Convention on access to genetic resources and benefit sharing, the European Commission urges EU companies and research institutes not to take genetic resources from other countries without their consent and without offering them a fair share of the profits and research results arising from the use of their resources.
EU agenda for 2004 to reach the 2010 target:
Further information can be found at:
European Commission - Nature Conservation
European Environment Agency
IUCN - World Conservation Union
Convention for Biodiversity