Biodiversity - Ecosystems

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Page Last modified 10 Feb 2020
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Biodiversity is the name given to the variety of ecosystems (natural capital), species and genes in the world or in a particular habitat. It is essential to human wellbeing, as it delivers services that sustain our economies and societies. Biodiversity is also crucial to ecosystem services — the services that nature supplies — such as pollination, climate regulation, flood protection, soil fertility and the production of food, fuel, fibre and medicines.

We are, however, currently witnessing a steady loss of biodiversity, which has profound consequences for the natural world and for human well-being. The main causes of this loss are changes to natural habitats due to intensive agricultural production systems; construction; quarrying; the overexploitation of forests, oceans, rivers, lakes and soils; invasive alien species; pollution and, increasingly, global climate change. The huge role biodiversity plays in the sustainability of our world and our lives makes its ongoing loss all the more troubling.

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 of the last 150 year, however, led to dramatic and accelerating changes in land use, the 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, which often encourages the unsustainable exploitation of natural resources outside Europe.

The new global and EU targets to halt and reverse biodiversity loss by 2020 are ambitious and achieving them will require better policy implementation, coordination across sectors, ecosystem management approaches and a wider understanding of the value of biodiversity. 

EU policies on the topic

Although it has been acknowledged at various levels that the target to halt biodiversity loss has not yet been met, setting such a target has certainly increased public awareness. Since 2001, policies addressing biodiversity loss and indicators assessing progress have improved significantly.

The EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2020 will help further integrate biodiversity needs into the development and implementation of sectoral policies. With its six targets, the Strategy addresses nature (target 1), ecosystems and their restoration (target 2), the sustainable use of Europe’s nature, land and sea resources via agriculture, forestry and fisheries (targets 3 and 4), the problem of alien species (target 5) and the EU’s global impacts (target 6). The Biodiversity Strategy to 2020 helps deliver the natural capital objective of the Seventh Environmental Action Programme (7th EAP) to 2020, “Living well, within the limits of our planet”, which came into force in January 2014 and will guide European environment policy until 2020. Both take their long term vision to 2050. 


Biodiversity Strategy to vision and headline target
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.

The Biodiversity Strategy to 2020 follows on from the 2006 EU Biodiversity Action Plan, learning lessons from its implementation and raising the level of ambition. In addition, it was triggered by and is fully in line with the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, which is the most important global biodiversity policy dedicated to halting the loss of biodiversity and with it the loss of ecosystem services by 2020. 

In October 2010, 193 parties to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, including the EU and all of its Member States, met in Japan. At this 10th meeting of parties to the Convention, a series of landmark agreements were adopted including the so called Aichi targets, which gives a framework for countries to kick off important activities to maintain, enhance and restore biodiversity, ecosystems and their services. 

As a party to the Convention, the EU is required to bring its own biodiversity policy into line with these international commitments. This is reflected in the 7th EAP and its 2020 policy target and 2050 vision, . The 2030 vision set out in the UN Sustainable Development Goals further enhances and confirms the policy process, in particular with respect to their integration into sectoral policies. 

The 2015 mid-term review of the Biodiversity Strategy to 2020 concluded that overall, biodiversity loss and the degradation of ecosystem services in the EU have worsened after the EU 2010 biodiversity baseline. This is also confirmed by the EEA report, The European Environment – State and Outlook 2020. Such worsening is consistent with global trends and has serious implications for the capacity of biodiversity to meet human needs in the future. While many local successes demonstrate that action on the ground delivers positive outcomes, these examples need to be scaled up to have a measurable impact on the overall negative trend. 

EU nature conservation policy is based on two main pieces of legislation: the Birds Directive and the Habitats Directive. Both these directives provide the basis for the Natura 2000 network, a network of protected areas to safeguard species and habitats of special European interest.

For inland and marine waters, there are two respective framework directives: the Water Framework Directive and the Marine Strategy Framework Directive. These have set targets whereby the biotic and abiotic elements of ecosystems will help to implement the targets of the Biodiversity Strategy to 2020 and the 7th EAP in terms of biodiversity, ecosystems and their services. 

EEA activities

The EEA works actively to provide policy makers and European citizens with the latest available information on European biodiversity and ecosystems. The EEA’s overall work in this area is to support and inform policy development and implementation by means of data, information/indicators and assessments, which integrate species and habitat analysis with wider assessments of ecosystems and their services. 

The EEA supports the above mentioned nature directives through reporting via Reportnet and the Biodiversity Data Centre, and works closely with the EEA’s European Environment Information and Observation Network Eionet) and the European Topic Centre on Biological Diversity. Key activities include: 

  • Biodiversity Information System for Europe (BISE);
  • European Nature Information System (EUNIS);
  • Natura 2000;
  • Streamlining European Biodiversity Indicators (SEBI2020);
  • Knowledge innovation project on Accounting for natural capital and ecosystem services (KIP INCA);
  • Mapping and assessment of ecosystems and their services (MAES).


Further development of EEA information systems needs to take place to comply with the nature directives, and the EU Biodiversity and Global Biodiversity strategies. In particular, the Biodiversity Information System for Europe, which is a web portal that centralises information about European biodiversity (i.e. policies, data and assessments) in a single location, will be further developed by the EEA.

The EEA will further work to develop indicators and assessments based on sound, timely and policy relevant methodologies. This will include needs emerging from policy effectiveness analysis, in particular the mid-term review of the Biodiversity Strategy to 2020 and sub-global/regional ecosystem assessments, as well as support to science-policy interface platforms at the European and global levels, e.g. Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES).



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