Abundant 'natural capital' in Europe's faraway lands

News Published 22 Oct 2014 Last modified 21 Jun 2016, 03:46 PM
From tropical islands to icy tundra, European Union overseas entities are rich in 'natural capital'. Many of these areas have highly productive land and seas, and a huge diversity of ecosystems; collectively they are home to an astounding number of globally significant species.
King penguins, South Georgia

King penguins, South Georgia  Image © Liam Quinn

Six European Union Member States have links to 34 Outermost Regions (ORs) and Overseas Countries and Territories (OCTs). The European Environment Agency (EEA) has published a new briefing on the ways people and their economies in these far-flung regions both depend on and affect ecosystems. It coincides with the 2014 Guadeloupe Conference, which will look at similar issues.

Several EU overseas territories host a very high biological richness, including around 70 % of the species living in the EU and its overseas entities. Natural capital includes this biodiversity and also vital services such as insect pollination of plants or the flood protection provided by forests.

For many EU overseas territories, protecting natural capital is an important element of adapting to climate change. For example, healthy wetlands, coral reefs and mangroves can protect coastal settlements from floods and storms. Moreover, vegetation and other natural systems have an additional value in absorbing carbon emissions, mitigating climate change.

Such natural capital directly underpins the economy in many overseas territories, the EEA briefing notes. Ecotourism is a vital source of income for many places, while several entities are heavily dependent on fishing. Nonetheless, human activity still threatens ecosystems in many overseas territories.

Many species in overseas territories have evolved in isolation, which means invasive alien species pose a more serious threat than in continental Europe. Climate change, increasing tourist numbers and other factors also threaten many species with extinction.

The EEA plans to collate and assess information on overseas territories' natural capital, which may be published as a report in 2015.

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European Environment Agency (EEA)
Kongens Nytorv 6
1050 Copenhagen K
Phone: +45 3336 7100