Key elements of the BAP review – is sectoral integration working? The trends and figures

Speech Published 25 Feb 2009 Last modified 13 Apr 2011, 09:43 PM
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Presentation by Prof. Jacqueline McGlade, Executive Director, European Environment Agency, at the European Parliament, 11th February 2009 - High level roundtable, The European biodiversity action plan Counting down to 2010: State of Play and the post 2010 vision for Europe.

What our indicator report has shown us is that we are some way short of our 2010 target, and that all our efforts need to be enhanced to protect our natural world.

Prof. Jacqueline McGlade

Biodiversity sets the living conditions for humanity.

Food, fibre, clean water and air, are just a few of the vital ecosystem goods and services that the variety of life underpins.

However, we still clear forests, plough fields, dam rivers, drain wetlands and build cities and roads at a frightening pace, often at the expense of our natural ecosystems.

It is now almost universally accepted that biodiversity and healthy ecosystems are essential for the resilience of societies and our economies.

From transport to energy, from agriculture to cultural well-being, all can manifest themselves in a way that can have unintended consequences on our ecosystems – the recent debate on the role of biofuels is a timely reminder of why we need good policy assessments to back up policy development.

In order to set targets, assess progress, anticipate changes in resilience and ecosystems, policy-makers and businesses need sound information and assessments on the state of the environment and the effectiveness of policies in achieving their outcomes.

The 2010 biodiversity target - introduced by heads of states and governments in 2002 - started a positive process in the conservation of our natural assets.

Put simply, in order to conserve our natural assets and protect the biodiversity we may inadvertently threaten, we need to know the positive and negative trends in their overall health.

The European Environment Agency’s main role is the provision of timely, targeted, relevant and reliable information.

We have a key role in ensuring that we can all make informed decisions to halt the loss of biodiversity. We lead the Streamlining European 2010 Biodiversity Indicators (SEBI 2010) process to ensure the EU, governments, business and its citizens know the status of our biodiversity, and thus a basis to take sound decisions.

We cannot be introspective and keep sight of the global picture. Europe has a significant impact beyond its borders. Both the benefits and threats of biodiversity and ecosystem services are global. One obvious example is the threat of invasive alien species. Tackling the problem is the aim Commission communication presenting policy options for an EU Invasive Species Strategy.

Why 2010 and how can we measure our impact?

Halting the loss of biodiversity by 2010 is a necessary and ambitious target.

The European 2010 target, like our climate change reduction obligations, sets the standard in the process towards sustainable use of natural resources and a healthy environment.  

But setting targets isn’t enough, it is necessary to measure progress towards its achievement. We need to know if our policy responses are responding to the biodiversity decline.

Essential to this process is the development of a set of coherent indicators which, in short, simplify information that can help to reveal complex phenomena and trends.

Indicators are not new and many countries have been developing their own. As a consequence the Streamlining European 2010 Biodiversity Indicators (SEBI 2010) project was set up to ensure a streamlining between national, regional and global level, to develop a simple and workable set of indicators to measure progress towards and help reach the 2010 target.

While SEBI 2010 is pan-European in scope, it is impossible to measure all components of biodiversity – indicators cannot be completely comprehensive in scope and geographic area but they do provide specific measurements and trends.

However, based on what we have, we see from the SEBI project that the causal links between policy responses - for example related to agricultural management - and actual trends in biodiversity - for example, an improvement in the status of farmland birds - are inherently complex.

Let me share some of the initial results with you – which will be finalised later this spring and published in our SEBI based assessment report in May.

Status and trends in European biodiversity

Progress has been made towards halting the loss of biodiversity – for example common birds are no longer in decline - but overall the status and trends are not yet favourable and the overall risk of species extinction for wildlife in Europe has increased.

Species trends reflect changes in land use and ecosystems and land cover data show a further decline of grasslands and wetlands. Changing agricultural methods, especially increased specialisation and intensification, has driven the decline of farmland birds.

Well-designed agri-environment measures have been shown to reverse bird declines at local levels. The decline in farmland bird populations stabilised around 1995, albeit at a low level, and forest birds have recovered somewhat (by 5%).

But extinction risk for birds overall in Europe - as measured by the Red List Index - has increased everywhere except in the Caucasus.

One of the main tools available to respond to biodiversity loss has been designating areas, which has increased significantly. The EU27 now has 17% of its territory designated under Natura 2000.

The first assessment of the implementation of the EU Habitats Directive shows that the conservation status is unfavourable for 40-80% of habitats of European interest (Annex 1).

Clearly, merely designating an area is not enough and we need better information on management effectiveness to complement the “designation” picture.

Designating areas to conserve biodiversity has been a key response, and if we can make these areas resilient in the face of climate change and human impact, this can act as a backbone of EU biodiversity.

However, we must not forget that many pressures on  biodiversity come from outside protected areas and we must not focus all our efforts on preserving islands of biodiversity, while losing nature everywhere else. Here sectoral policies in agriculture, fisheries and forestry play a significant role.

Biodiversity and sectoral policies – agriculture, fisheries and forestry

Agriculture plays a critical role in Europe’s biodiversity threat and potential. In the EU we have significant areas of High Nature Value farmland - farmland which supports biodiversity by providing habitat for a wide range of species.

Promoting conservation and sustainable farming practices in these areas is crucial for biodiversity. The policy tools available within EU agriculture policy for conserving HNV farmland across the EU are in their infancy, but progress is being made.

Outside of these high nature areas agriculture still exerts a high pressure on biodiversity. It is the main land use in Europe: 34% of the European terrestrial area is used for crop production and 14% for grassland.

Nitrogen surpluses are declining, but generally remain high, particularly in lowland western Europe.

Other measures that have contributed to this improvement include improvement in wastewater treatment, reduction of industrial effluents and agricultural run-off (e.g. due to implementation of the EU Nitrate Directive), reduced phosphate content of detergents and reductions in atmospheric emissions.

Fisheries

In the marine environment, pollution levels are stable, but the state of marine fauna is worrying due to unsustainable fishing practices.  About 45 percent of assessed European stocks are outside safe biological limits.

Most of us here have been debating for years how commercial fisheries damage the integrity of the marine ecosystem in most European seas. They have caused a decline in big predatory fish and an increase in relative numbers of small fish and invertebrates. 

Certain measures are being applied to address this unsustainable situation include: recovery plans for specific stocks; fishing bans; reduction of illegal landings and a wide range of other regulations to reduce fishing pressure. But the indicators show us clearly that more needs to be done – and fast.

Forestry

Wood harvest in European forests is sustainable and the ratio of fellings to increment is relatively stable at around 60%. This percentage is forecast to increase to between 70% and 80% by 2010.

However, quantities of deadwood in Europe - an indicator for forest biodiversity - decreased rapidly between 1850 and the 1990s. Although now increasing slightly, deadwood in most European countries remains well below optimal levels from a biodiversity perspective.

Fragmentation

Possibly the biggest concern is the integrity of ecosystems threatened by fragmentation. This process reduces the opportunities for organisms to disperse and affects the dynamic balance of local extinctions and colonisations. Dam construction, canalisation and drainage can have similar effects in freshwater systems.

European ecosystems are literally cut to pieces by urban sprawl and a rapidly expanding transport network. The gain of anthropogenic landscape patterns such as the spread of artificial and agricultural areas into previously more natural/semi-natural areas is a general trend across Europe.

Report assessment

Our indicator assessment shows that European biodiversity continues to be under serious pressure and that policy responses, although successful in some areas, have been insufficient to halt its general decline.

Climate change and its mitigation is a top policy priority in Europe. But the potential impacts of climate change on biodiversity is important, especially when we consider how biodiversity policies need to adapt to climate change, and also to know how biodiversity can help us adapt.

In this regard it is heartening to hear Commissioner Dimas say that both can only be tackled successfully in an integrated approach.

Better management of designated areas is needed, as well as better integration of biodiversity concerns into sectoral policies affecting the wider countryside and the environment at large.

Communication

I would agree with Commissioner Dimas that we need more effort in biodiversity science, economics and communications.

We know that without the support and involvement of the public we can never completely tackle the problem. A eurobarometer survey indicates that two thirds of EU citizens do not know the meaning of the word “biodiversity”, or understand the main threats to biodiversity. This represents a significant challenge for us all here!

Economics

The economic challenge is also one we must address – and start basing our policies decisions on a clear understanding of the true cost of using our biodiversity and ecosystems.

The ultimate purpose of the biodiversity or ecosystem accounting is to measure the gap between the reality of ecosystem integrity and the objectives stated in national and European laws. Then to calculate the full maintenance, sustainability and restoration costs of meeting these objectives.

This additional element of sustainability should be calculated both for national ecosystems and for ecosystem input to imported products.

For both countries and companies, such calculations leads to measuring a full cost of commodities which including market prices and the cost of their footprint on the ecosystems and biodiversity loss. The EEA is contributing to this work through the TEEB process, which is currently in its second phase.

For example, non-timber forest products in Mediterranean countries have a value of around €25/ha/yr, compared to €6-10/ha/yr in Sweden.

The recreational value of forests per hectare per year in Italy is €49-56, in Ireland €158, in Scandinavia just €9-13 and in England €1,892. In Finland, watershed protection to protect old growth is valued at €5,275/ha/yr.

Carbon sequestration in Ireland is valued per hectare per year at €56, in Sweden €6-10 and in the UK €177-261. Non-use values for forests in the UK are valued at €564-1,536 compared to the USA where they contribute €787 towards GDP, and where value is directly affected by accessibility and the size of the local population.

Conclusions

As a scientist working with and for policy-makers, I would like to see assessments being based on the best available science, being policy relevant, and also transparent about uncertainties.

At the EEA we will continue to work hard on establishing the best and most timely data to underpin the policy discussions at national and international level and I look forward to Athens and discussing in further detail our finalised SEBI report.

What our indicator report has shown us is that we are some way short of our 2010 target, and that all our efforts need to be enhanced to protect our natural world.

Losing our biodiversity and ecosystem integrity will affect us all, and not just those of us which enjoy a walk in nature – but the very framework within which our economies operate. The higher operating costs or reduced operating flexibility through diminished or degraded resources will have an impact akin to the current financial crisis.

It is also clear to me that we need to work closer with sectoral interests with the ultimate goal to restore and enhance our biodiversity and ecosystems in conjunction with the human management activities that may currently threaten them.

But change is already taking place e.g. Fishing for energy of the US coast or forest protection in Switzerland.

Globalisation has led to open markets and free trade, but it has also pushed our natural and ecological capital to the limit. A 'new green deal' developed by world leaders is essential to tackle the current global economic and climate change crisis.

But in stimulating the global economy we must also include the real value of using biodiversity and ecosystems in how we consume, even if we have pushed its production out of sight and out of mind. 

Only then can we truly relieve the pressure and halt the loss of biodiversity, and develop a sustainable economy.

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