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You are here: Home / Environmental topics / Biodiversity / Biodiversity

Biodiversity

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Biodiversity embraces the variety of genes, species and ecosystems that constitute life on Earth. We are currently witnessing a steady loss of biodiversity, with profound consequences for the natural world and for human well-being. The main causes are changes in natural habitats. These are due to intensive agricultural production systems, construction, quarrying, overexploitation of forests, oceans, rivers, lakes and soils, alien species invasions, pollution and — increasingly — global climate change.

Humankind is itself a part of biodiversity, and our existence would be impossible without it. Quality of life, economic competitiveness, employment and security all rely on this natural capital. Biodiversity is crucial to 'ecosystem services', i.e. the services that nature supplies: climate regulation, water and air, soil fertility, and the production of food, fuel, fibre and medicines. It is essential for maintaining the long-term viability of agriculture and fisheries, and is the basis of many industrial processes and the production of new medicines.

In Europe, human activity has shaped biodiversity ever since the spread of agriculture and animal husbandry over 5 000 years ago. The agricultural and industrial revolutions led to dramatic and accelerating changes in land use, intensification of agriculture, urbanisation and land abandonment. This in turn has resulted in the collapse of many practices (e.g. traditional agricultural methods) that helped to maintain biodiversity-rich landscapes.

Europe's high per capita consumption and waste production means that our impact on ecosystems extends well beyond our continent. European lifestyles rely heavily on the import of resources and goods from all over the world, often encouraging unsustainable exploitation of natural resources. This leads to loss of biodiversity which in turn damages the natural capital resources on which social and economic development is based.

In 2001 Europe set itself an ambitious target: halting the loss of biodiversity by 2010. Recent EEA assessments concluded that the 2010 target was not met. Data and indicators which have been used to measure progress towards this target at the European level are published in the EEA Biodiversity Data Centre.

2010 was the International Year for Biodiversity, the year of the tenth Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, and the year of new biodiversity targets at European and global level. A new vision and target for the post 2010 period was adopted by the EU:

The vision

By 2050 European Union biodiversity and the ecosystem services it provides – its natural capital – are protected, valued and appropriately restored for biodiversity's intrinsic value and for their essential contribution to human wellbeing and economic prosperity, and so that catastrophic changes caused by the loss of biodiversity are avoided.

The headline target

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 stepping up the EU contribution to averting global biodiversity loss.

 

Two new tools for combating biodiversity loss have been developed by the European Commission and EEA: the BISE and the ‘biodiversity baseline’. BISE, the Biodiversity Information System for Europe, is a web portal centralising information about European biodiversity in a single location. The ‘biodiversity baseline’ is developed as a snapshot of the current state of biodiversity to establish the evidence base necessary for stepping up the EU action to address the European and global biodiversity crisis now. 

Biodiversity embraces the variety of genes, species and ecosystems that constitute life on Earth. We are currently witnessing a steady loss of biodiversity, with profound consequences for the natural world and for human well-being. The main causes are changes in natural habitats. These are due to intensive agricultural production systems, construction, quarrying, overexploitation of forests, oceans, rivers, lakes and soils, alien species invasions, pollution and — increasingly — global climate change.

You can read more about key contributions from the European Environment Agency to support the EU biodiversity strategy 2020 targets and international biodiversity policies.

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European Environment Agency (EEA)
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Phone: +45 3336 7100