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Janez Potočnik

European Commissioner for Environment

Biodiversity - we must move from words to action

Figures and graphics available in PDF and WORD PROCESSED

Statement on the eve of International Day of Biodiversity

Port of Antwerp, 21 May 2010

As European Commissioner for Environemnent, Biodiversity is one of my top priorities and the Natura 2000 network is one of the essential elements of our biodiversity policy. I therefore very much welcome the opportunity to visit the port of Antwerp on the eve of International Day for Biodiversity. The port is a great example of how nature conservation and economic development can go hand in hand. Excellent cooperation has been taking place here between public and port authorities and nature conservation NGOs. This has allowed for a high rate of nature recovery and truly sustainable development.

I will say a few more words later about Belgium but first let me say a little about the international context and the state of biodiversity generally.

Globally, I am sorry to say that Biodiversity loss continues at an unacceptable rate. This will bring very serious ecological, economic and social consequences. Neither the EU nor the global targets for halting biodiversity decline by 2010 have been met.

There are many reasons for this: habitat destruction, bad use of land, unsustainable use of natural resources, bad implementation of legislation, poor integration of biodiversity conservation into sectoral policies, insufficient funding for nature conservation and lack of communication and education.

Why is this important? Because if we continue with “business- as-usual” there will be severe economic losses. An increasing global population demanding more food and resources depends exclusively on the goods and services provided by ecosystems for survival. Ecosystems decline and biodiversity losses pose a serious threat to our quality of life, our natural environment and our economy.

The first results of ‘The Economics of Ecosystems & Biodiversity’ study estimated that the annual value of the global loss of ecosystem services is €50 billion from land-based ecosystems alone. The cumulated welfare losses could reach 7% of GDP by 2050.

Rising temperatures and the acidification of the oceans mean that 60% of coral reefs will be lost by 2030. Some 11% of natural areas will be lost globally by 2050, mainly from conversion to agriculture, expansion of infrastructure and climate change. Europe will not be immune.

We need to turn this around and as Commissioner for Environment I intend to do my utmost to achieve just that, both in the EU and internationally.

On 15 March 2010 the EU Environment Council adopted a target of halting the loss of biodiversity and the degradation of ecosystem services in the EU by 2020, and restoring them in so far as feasible, while also stepping up the EU contribution to averting global biodiversity loss. EU Heads of State confirmed their commitment to these targets at their last European Council meeting.

My job over the next 5 years will be to try to translate words into action.


And now, as I promised earlier, a few words about Belgium.

First let me say that The Commission welcomes the initiative of Belgium to organise an international conference on 'Biodiversity post-2010 - Biodiversity in a changing world' in Gent in September this year.

Second, I would like to congratulate Belgium and its three federal regions for their commitment to implementing the EU nature legislation, for the progress made in establishing and managing Natura 2000 sites, also in the marine and the important ongoing efforts towards designating Special Conservation Areas (SACs). With a total of 457 Natura 2000 sites covering 388.000 ha land (12.7% of its territory) and 34.200 ha of marine areas, Belgium was amongst the first Member states to have completed its Natura network. In addition, the Flemish region has established the 'Flemish ecological network' – VEN', a very substantial regional ecological network that contributes to the coherence of the Natura 2000 network.

I also thank the environmental organisations such as Natuurpunt, Natagora, and many others who have been very active in preserving the Natura 2000 sites in Belgium.

However our job is not yet done. 92 % (!) of Habitat types and 52 % of species of Community interest still have an unfavourable conservation status in Belgium. Therefore, also in this country, it is crucial that efforts for biodiversity conservation will be continued and further enhanced, not only inside Natura 2000 areas, but also outside of this network.

The Commission is aware of the difficult context in Belgium, due to a high population density and a high level of competition between different land uses. In this regard, one can only welcome the intense communication efforts involving all major stakeholders in making Natura 2000 work in this country.

Natura 2000 does not threaten the balance between economic and natural development. Economic activities and new developments are not excluded from Natura sites. The Directives as they stand do provide the necessary flexibility to ensure compatibility between nature protection and economic developments.

It is important that, for each Natura 2000 site, clear and timely conservation objectives are being established. We understand that this now is happening in Belgium in context of the ongoing designation of the Natura 2000 sites as Special Areas of Conservation at the regional. We also understand that Belgium is in a process of preparing the designation of Special areas of conservation and corresponding management plans.

I will end here to leave time for you to ask me whatever questions you wish but let me just finish by saying that we in the Commission look forward to cooperating closely during Belgium's Presidency of the Council. I am sure it will be a fruitful one.

Thank You

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