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Brussels, 25 October 2010

Why is the EU is calling for a strategic target of halting the loss of biodiversity by 2020?

Questions and answers on the EU position at Nagoya

There are three justifications for an ambitious target.

The third edition of the Global Biodiversity Outlook, presented in May, shows that the pressures on biodiversity are constantly increasing, and that we are losing biodiversity at unprecedented rates. Any failure to reverse the trend will lead to extremely serious problems in the longer run.

Secondly, a growing body of evidence is revealing the economic implications of biodiversity loss and the loss of ecosystem services. The international study of The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity ("TEEB") is showing that it is cheaper to invest in conserving and even enhancing our natural assets than the cost of trying to undo the damage later on if we continue to prioritise development at the expense of nature.

An ambitious target is also important for the credibility of Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). In view of the findings of science and economics, the CBD needs an ambitious target. The EU is therefore calling for an outcome-oriented target that identifies what we want for biodiversity.

What is the EU position on increasing funding to halt biodiversity loss?

The EU fully agrees that ambitious targets will need to be matched by resources to implement them. While all countries share responsibility for tackling biodiversity loss, developing countries will need assistance in this respect. A better knowledge of current levels of biodiversity spending is also a priority, as only then will true needs become apparent. In the end, it might well be true that significant increases will be needed in the longer term, but the picture is not yet clear at present.

What is the EU's position in the discussions on ABS (access and benefit sharing)?

The EU will make every effort to see the ABS Protocol adopted in Nagoya. Despite a number of outstanding issues in the negotiations, there are good reasons for hoping an agreement will be reached.

Global biodiversity stands to gain from an effective international regime that ensures equitable access to the benefits of genetic resources. Such an agreement will be only effective if it provides fair benefit sharing and clarity, transparency and legal certainty for everyone involved – for those that provide and those that use genetic resources and related information. A fair solution is needed to ensure that additional funding is generated to conserve biodiversity and use it sustainably, while giving researchers everywhere the security they need to carry out research that will ultimately benefit all peoples.

In what ways will the TEEB (the economics of ecosystems and biodiversity) study unveiled during the conference be helpful?

TEEB – a project hosted by UNEP and funded by the European Commission and governments including Germany, the UK, the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, Belgium, and Japan – has already inspired several other countries to launch their own national TEEB studies and more should follow after Nagoya. Valuing biodiversity and ecosystem services are in the interest of our economic development, and the ten key messages contained in the synthesis report are sure to make an impact.

Is the EU in favour of setting up IPBES, the new platform on biodiversity and ecosystems?

Despite its recent travails, the IPPC is and has been massively important in raising awareness about climate change and ensuring that the issue is accorded the political importance it requires. The International Science Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) should do a similar job, synthesizing key scientific information and catalysing efforts to generate and share knowledge about biodiversity and ecosystem services, and the ecological, social and economic impacts of its loss. This is vital in order to increase public understanding and trigger better informed decision-making to safeguard nature and the ecosystem services. The CBD will consider IPBES in Nagoya, looking at ways of working with the proposed platform once it has been established.

The final decision to establish IPBES and convene a first meeting in 2011 should be taken by the UN General Assembly in 2010, hopefully through a resolution that will be debated in New York in early November.

What is the EU doing to tackle biodiversity loss in Europe?

Over several decades, the EU has developed some of the strongest environmental legislation in the world. By setting high standards for the environmental status of water, air, and seas, the EU is also protecting its biodiversity.

In 2001, the EU set itself the ambitious target of halting biodiversity loss altogether by 2010, and in 2006 it adopted an action plan to speed progress towards that target. While the target was not achieved, many important lessons were learned. On the conservation side, close to 18% of the territory of the European Union is now covered by the 'Natura 2000' network of nature protection areas, and the network is still growing. Earlier this year, the European Union adopted a new biodiversity target which aims to halt biodiversity loss in the EU by 2020 and restore ecosystems where possible, as well as stepping up efforts to avert global biodiversity loss.

The EU is now developing a strategy to reach the 2020 target. The outcome of Nagoya should provide an ambitious framework to guide the further development of this strategy.

And the rest of the world?

The EU is making efforts to reduce the negative impacts of consumption patterns on biodiversity, both within the EU and beyond. For instance, legislation was just adopted to prevent illegally harvested timber from accessing the EU market.

Was Europe's 2010 target a realistic goal?

The 2010 target to halt biodiversity loss in Europe was ambitious, but it could have been achieved if all the measures set out in the EU biodiversity action plan had been fully implemented.

Where actions were well planned and delivered, as was the case for threatened bird species, the plan was very effective. Natura 2000 has halted the destruction and degradation of vital habitats such as wetlands, which are now provided with a higher level of protection across Europe than ever before.

The target also raised the profile of biodiversity, and the subject is now higher on the EU political agenda than ever before. But this high-level political commitment to biodiversity still needs to be effectively translated into results, especially in engaging all policy sectors that affect biodiversity.

Background: What is biodiversity?

Biodiversity – "biological diversity" – is the variety of life on Earth. These plants, animals, fungi and micro-organisms and the communities they form are the vital web of life that supports our existence on this planet. When one section of that web is removed, as in the case of species extinction, the consequences can be severe and unpredictable.

As a result of human action, our planet is now experiencing biodiversity loss on a massive scale, with rates of extinction that are estimated to be 100 to 1000 times higher than normal. Scientists now speak of the sixth major extinction event in geologic history – an event whose consequences no one can foresee.

The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA), an unprecedented international four-year research effort that was published in 2005, warned that up to 30 percent of all species on Earth could vanish by 2050 due to unsustainable human activities.

Why is biodiversity loss a problem?

Biodiversity gives us a wide range of benefits. We get goods such as food, materials, energy and medicines, and services such as carbon storage, climate regulation, flood protection, protection against soil erosion, nutrient cycling and water purification, recreation and leisure.

The implications of biodiversity loss range from micro-level changes to the collapse of entire ecosystems and services, which could eventually impact our future prosperity. We don't have a perfect understanding of the role of biodiversity in maintaining ecosystem functioning, but it's clear that ecosystems with high species diversity are more productive, more stable and resilient, and less vulnerable to external stresses.

It's clear that we are now severely compromising nature's capacity to deliver the goods and services upon which we are so dependent. Deforestation and overfishing are two obvious examples.

This loss should not be seen as a price to pay for economic development. The problem is far more serious because the potential environmental, economic and social impacts are catastrophic and must be addressed urgently.

Hasn't biodiversity loss always existed? Isn't it another name for evolution?

The problem is that the rate of extinction has increased dramatically in recent years due to our impact as humans, and nature has no time to adjust. The rate of change is perhaps as damaging as the effects of the changes.

In former large extinctions in the earth’s history, it took millions of years for the earth to recover. To put this in perspective, this is many times longer than humans have actually been on the earth. The main difference now is that, instead of having a mass extinction in one particular environment, we are losing huge numbers of species in several key environments at the same time. Not only are we depleting numerous animal and fish species, we are also depleting large portions of our plant species too. in other words, it's unprecedented process.

Why is biodiversity loss still continuing?

One underlying reason for the continuing decline in biodiversity is a "failure of the market": as with many public goods, the real value of biodiversity is not reflected in its market price. The Commission is attempting to remedy this with its high profile involvement in "The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB)" initiative. The study has already revealed the enormous scale of the problem: the net present value of services from forests ecosystems that we lose around the world each year, for example, is estimated at between €1.35 trillion and €3.1 trillion.

A second reason for this continuing decline in the EU is a failure to achieve sufficient integration of biodiversity concerns into the design and implementation of other policies, particularly in areas such as agriculture, fisheries, regional policy and trade. Boosting integration will therefore be a key challenge for future policy.

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