Trends and future outlook for Europe’s biodiversity

Speech Published 02 Mar 2010 Last modified 16 Oct 2014
Presentation by Prof. Jacqueline McGlade, Executive Director of EEA, at the WWF Evening Dialogue On Biodiversity — ‘Make Space For Nature’ , Bavarian Representation to the EU , Brussels on 2 March 2010

We need hugely broadened public understanding and appreciation of biodiversity and its role in sustaining our societies and economies ... complemented by greater understanding on the part of policymakers of what is driving biodiversity loss and how we can halt and reverse it.

Prof. Jacqueline McGlade

Ladies and gentlemen

[Slide 2: SEBI indicators reveal complex trends]

As many of you may know, EEA has played an important role in advancing understanding of the status and trends of Europe’s biodiversity by orchestrating the development of the Streamlining European 2010 Biodiversity Indicators (SEBI 2010).

There’s no question that the SEBI process has been very effective in harmonising national data and drawing together information across Europe, allowing us for the first time to get an overview of the status and trends of the continent’s biodiversity.

[Slide 3: European biodiversity remains under serious pressure]

Unfortunately, the messages that the indicators deliver are less encouraging. Despite some positive developments, the unhappy fact remains that Europe will miss its ambitious target of stopping biodiversity loss by 2010.

And we risk missing future targets unless we change the way that we are managing our environment.

Turning this around requires better popular understanding of biodiversity and its value and better information for policymakers

How are we going to turn this around? Well, I would say that for change to occur, we need two core things.

First, we need hugely broadened public understanding and appreciation of biodiversity and its role in sustaining our societies and economies.

[Slide 4: familiarity with the term ‘biodiversity’]

It’s worrying to note, for instance, that as recently as 2007 a Gallup poll found that just 35 % of EU citizens know what the term ‘biodiversity’ means. 34 % had never heard of the concept.

This is crucial because it’s ultimately popular recognition of the value of biodiversity and healthy ecosystems that’s going to create the political will for action.

Clearly, though, this needs to be complemented by a second element, which is greater understanding on the part of policymakers of what is driving biodiversity loss and how we can halt and reverse it.

Biodiversity indicators alone are not enough to effect such changes, as the EU’s post-2010 biodiversity policy process recognises

When we recognise the importance of these two factors, the limitations of biodiversity indicator such as SEBI 2010 become apparent.

Let’s be clear: indicator sets like SEBI convey essential information to the public and policymakers. But while they’re necessary to effect change, they’re not sufficient.

Biodiversity indicators tell us what is happening to biodiversity but struggle, by themselves, to communicate why it’s happening, why it matters and how we should respond.

[Slide 5: EEA has been asked to produce a baseline and establish BISE]

The Commission’s January communication on options for a post-2010 EU biodiversity vision and target recognises the need to plug gaps in information and policy, and identifies actions to address this.

In this context, EEA has been requested to produce a baseline based on SEBI data and drawing in any other relevant information.

EEA has also been asked to prepare a prototype of a Biodiversity Information System for Europe – BISE – as a hub to gather data, information and knowledge on biodiversity enabling the production of indicators and assessments, in particular addressing ecosystems and ecosystem services.

Using methodologies such as water, carbon and land use accounts, we will put together a much more complete picture of ecosystem health and the drivers of biodiversity loss.

These, in turn, should provide much more useful tools to guide policymakers in devising measures to our ecosystems effectively.

Indeed, as a crucial bridge between science and policy, we see BISE as potentially representing a European element in the broader IPBES process, currently under discussion.

IPBES — the International Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services — is foreseen as providing an interface between science and policy, fulfilling a role analogous to the IPCC’s in the climate change sphere. As such, it can make a vital contribution to ensuring that policy reflects our new understanding of the links between biodiversity, ecosystems and human wellbeing.

Communicating the value of biodiversity can be achieved through better ecosystem accounting

[Slide 6: we need to express the costs of biodiversity loss in financial terms]

We can clearly address the other need – wider understanding of biodiversity and its value – with a variety of tools to complement biodiversity indicators.

First off, we need to go from physical indicators of biodiversity’s status to monetary measures, quantifying the actual value of the goods and services that biodiversity provides.

The fact is that many people continue to see biodiversity loss in terms of iconic endangered species such as whales and panda bears.

In reality, of course, such species represent a tiny part of the wealth of life and habitats that make up biodiversity. And their beauty and the wonder they inspire is only a part of the enormous value of biodiversity.

Better accounting will mean that people can see the true costs of biodiversity loss in financial terms – a language that we can all readily understand.

[Slide 7: Our compass is faulty]

Such calculations are also, of course, essential for determining the true costs and benefits of investments, and are thus vital for policymakers.

In this context, The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) process will provide some of the answers we need, particularly with respect to measuring the value of ecosystem goods and services. The EEA has been supporting this process namely through our SEBI2010 indicators

And at EEA, we are exploring ways to quantify our impact on ecosystems in monetary terms at broader scales by looking at the cost of restoring ecosystems that have been damaged.

Finally, we need to convey the information in a format that is relevant, timely and understandable, and engages people in dialogue, for instance via Eye On Earth...

[Slide 8: Eye On Earth]

In addition to finding ways to express the value of biodiversity in ways that people can readily understand, we need to communicate our messages compellingly, which means ensuring that the information is relevant and engaging.

EEA’s new Eye On Earth platform provides information on local bathing water and air quality, based on near real-time data from monitoring stations and computer modelling. It translates rather ‘dry’, complex scientific data into a format that is relevant and understandable for more than 500 million EU citizens, ultimately in 25 languages.

[Slide 9: Eye On Earth II]

And, of course, Eye On Earth has the capacity to present and integrate a huge range of other types of environmental information – on soil, biodiversity and so forth – and even to integrate other social and economic information, providing a much richer picture of what is happening, why it’s happening, and how we should respond.

Crucially, Eye On Earth boosts interaction by allowing users to post their opinions on the state of the environment, confirming or perhaps contradicting the scientific monitoring data. We see this as a step in a wider process of engaging the public in a dialogue. Besides empowering people, it potentially gives us access to a huge information resource.

And via the Environmental Atlas

[Slide 10: Environmental Atlas of Europe]

Another method for delivering the message understandably yet compellingly is through the medium of stories – shifting from a comparison of harmonised indicators across the continent to a much more focused look at the importance of biodiversity to local communities.

[Slide 11: Environmental Atlas of Europe II]

Again, IT can help communicate in this way. The Environmental Atlas, a collaboration between EEA, UNEP, UNECE and ESA, provides a platform for telling stories using video and photos, as well as providing information from satellites and via case studies. We have stories across Europe and will be adding new ones as the year goes on. The local case studies of TEEB will also find their place in the Atlas by the end of the year.

[Slide 12: International Year of Biodiversity]

As the International Year of Biodiversity, then, 2010 provides us the chance to shift public awareness and policy significantly.

Biodiversity indicators are an indispensible element in effecting this shift. But making the most of them requires that we find the right ways to deliver them, making full use of available technologies and complementing them with other types of information.

[Slide 13: Thanks]



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