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Janez Potočnik

European Commissioner for Environment

Wales Biodiversity Partnership Annual Conference Keynote speech

Welsh Assembly Government

Bangor University, Bangor, North Wales, 16 September 2010

Chairman, Minister Davidson, Ladies and Gentlemen

We have entered what we might call the century of fragility. Our world is both more inter-connected and at the same time, more multi-polar. Some have called it the 'great acceleration', a period when our resource use has multiplied massively and we deal – almost daily – with pandemics, economic crises, floods, food security scares and an increasingly ageing society.

I am convinced that sustainability and governance are two issues that are crucial to our better understanding of the situation we find ourselves in – as well to finding solutions to our biggest problems.

At the beginning of the year, Minister Davidson admitted Wales would not reach the target to halt biodiversity loss by 2010. This would be less worrying if it wasn't for the fact that this news puts Wales 'in the same boat' as most EU regions and Member States.

And I don't think I would be giving any secrets away either, by telling you that the EU will not meets its 2010 target of halting biodiversity.

It doesn't sound too good for the planet. And it isn't. Far too many living organisms are disappearing at an alarming rate. Here, one fifth of Wales' wild plants are under threat; and over two fifths of bird species in Wales are 'red listed', or identified as having unfavourable conservation status. Wales is by no means immune from the global problems of biodiversity loss.

And this is worrying for two main reasons. First, because something unique and natural is being lost; and second because we risk losing the benefits, goods and services they give us. Not so much a win-win…as a lose-lose.

This is why we urgently need to start seeing biodiversity loss for what it really is: a sign of the unsustainability of our societies, and not unavoidable collateral damage as the result of economic evolution.

But when we are constantly confronted by this unsustainability, it can be overwhelming. But not if we are able to put it into perspective. We have to understand that achieving sustainability is our responsibility. It will need our constant attention and a conscious effort by everyone, wherever they work or have influence.

One of Wales' most famous sons, Dylan Thomas, spoke about the pleasure of burning bridges. I wouldn't suggest taking as much pleasure as he suggested, but we need to learn from our past mistakes and we need to re-assert a new way of seeing EU biodiversity policy.

We have at our disposal many new elements that will allow us to make a fresh new start in facing the biodiversity crisis, which match actions to needs of this urgent problem.

We have a new target for 2020 and a new vision for 2050, recently adopted by the Heads of States. This new target is more ambitious than the previous one. While the objective of halting biodiversity loss as set out in the EU's 2010 biodiversity target remains valid, there is a new emphasis on ecosystem services (the natural capital that biodiversity can provide for us) and restoration.

We also need to build on and consolidate our successes. In this regard the Natura 2000 network of protected areas, embracing the areas of highest biodiversity importance in the EU, becomes a cornerstone of our biodiversity policy. To ensure a fully functional network, the UK needs to invest as much as is necessary and establish the effective management and restoration of these sites.

There is also recognition of the role of the EU in protecting global biodiversity.

We know much more than before. And while not all our information gaps have been filled, we have made a giant leap in our knowledge of biodiversity compared to 2001. Our knowledge base is much more robust: we have a baseline on the state of biodiversity produced by the European Environment Agency. We now know the conservation status of the habitats and species of EU interest. We have recently produced very thorough global assessments on the state of biodiversity and the effects of different pressures and drivers.

And knowing much more means we can make better, more relevant policy. The international community is looking towards the creation of the IPBES (Intergovernmental Platform for Biodiversity and Ecosystem services). This will be to biodiversity what the IPCC (Inter governmental Platform for Climate Change) was for climate change. We will be able to mainstream the most recent scientific data into policy making. We will be able to see where we need to do new research.

And after October, we will have a new global framework to face together the challenge to protect biodiversity. In Nagoya, the Parties to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity plan to agree on a new global target and a new Strategic Plan to reach that target.

We will soon be able to include the value of biodiversity and ecosystem services in mainstream economics and National Accounting Standards. The necessary methodologies to do this are being worked on by Eurostat, the EEA, the London Group and the UNCEEA. And in addition the TEEB project will help us give economic value to biodiversity and its services.

This is so important. It means that finally the tools will be there to include Natural Capital in the same equation and on the same footing as Human Capital and other economic assets. This will make it possible to redirect investment towards maintenance and enhancement of natural capital.

We will be able to measure what many thought – and probably still think – is immeasurable. We are finding out, in many ways, just what nature really does for us.

And taking that even further, we have a unique opportunity now to make a giant leap in integrating biodiversity into EU policy. This is because we are at a crossroads. Before us, we have a period of essential reform of the Common Agriculture Policy, the Common Fisheries Policy and the Cohesion Policy. Biodiversity and ecosystem concerns permeate through all of these policies – but we have to make sure they deliver the benefits for biodiversity in the EU that we know they can.

One of the ways we aim to do this is through action under one of the 'flagship initiatives' on Resource Efficiency, included in the EU2020 Strategy. It is a complex area but in simple terms it means reducing the impact of our consumption and production patterns on EU and global biodiversity. We need to use less…to produce even more.

These are positives. But we can't get too carried away.

Because all these new opportunities and assets will be lost if we do not have the will and the focus to make sure they succeed, even if that means changing the way we live our lives for ever. We will have to prioritise what we know we can do now and find new, innovative tools. These must benefit biodiversity and ensure the provision of ecosystem services, but also harness their full potential for a different growth and a greener and more sustainable economy.

The adoption of the Natural Environment Framework for Wales has been created in exactly this spirit. It will grab those new opportunities necessary to face the current environmental challenges with a new, more integrated approach - that is certainly the only way we are going to succeed.

Ladies and Gentlemen

I'm sure you know the phrase 'think global, act local'. This is how we need to act when it comes to biodiversity. And again it comes back to taking our own responsibility for what is around us. It is our local biodiversity where species and habitats need to be preserved or restored and where most of the benefits of ecosystem services will be reaped.

This is our advantage, but puts a lot of responsibility on regional and local authorities. They will need to take the right decisions and by doing so help local communities to benefit from the goods and services that biodiversity provides. For this reason I am very pleased that Wales clearly wants to be in the forefront and, as the theme of this conference shows, wants to lead by example.

I would like to finish by inviting you to share your views with the Commission on what should be the main elements of its new EU Biodiversity Strategy. To do so, I would encourage you to reply to our internet consultation (My Voice in Europe) which is open until 22 October.

We are looking forward to hearing what you have to say. What more could we expect from a country that shows the spiritual and cultural value of biodiversity on its flag. Who could picture the Welsh flag without its Red Dragon? Who would dare to imagine Wales without its Natural Capital?

Of course the dragon is a mythological creature, well protected by the great Welsh people…and immune from the pressures of extinction…but let's try and make sure that the rest of our precious nature gets the same kind of protection!

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