Europe bids to 'halt' biodiversity loss

May 4, 2011 by Roddy Thomson
EU environment commissioner Janez Potocnik gives a press conference on an EU biodiversity strategy up to 2020 at EU headquarters in Brussels.

Europe set new targets Tuesday to halt a mainly man-made loss of species costing billions each year as campaigners called for tougher environmental demands on farmers.

"It's our natural capital that we are spending too fast -- and we all know what happens when we borrow beyond our means," said European Union environment commissioner Janez Potocnik.

In the EU, around one in four species are considered "threatened with extinction," he said. Worldwide, species and natural habitats are lost at "alarming rates... up to 1,000 times the natural rate."

Eighty-eight percent of fish stocks are either "overexploited or significantly depleted," as are a quarter of , including "mammals, amphibians, reptiles, birds and butterflies."

Potocnik was unveiling new guidelines for EU governments to follow in a call to arms for the bloc's 27 member states, and insisted national treasuries would be making "a much smarter investment" by focusing on prevention rather than a cure.

The Slovenian commissioner said it should be a condition for obtaining grants that EU farmers respect environmental engagements, and suggested that fish whose stocks are low should not be pulled out of the sea.

Alberto Arroyo, a conservation expert at the World Wildlife Federation, said the commission had signalled "good intentions," but stressed meaningful action would only come with reform of the EU's budget, 40 percent of which goes on farm subsidies.

Illustration of the main causes of biodiversity loss, with examples of endangered species. Europe set new targets Tuesday to halt a mainly man-made loss of species costing billions each year as campaigners called for tougher environmental demands on farmers.

Reformers who want radical changes to agricultural, fisheries and development funding, saying subsidies should be conditional on environmental targets.

Breaking the cycle there will be the "real test," he said of whether political leaders realise "what biodiversity is and why it is so important to us."

lawmaker Sandrine Belier, who stands on a Green ticket, likewise said Tuesday's strategy was "too flimsy," and lacked "concrete measures" to enable the EU to reach its revised 2020 objective.

So far, scientists have identified 1.9 million species (perhaps five percent of all living things), and between 16,000 and 18,000 new ones, essentially microscopic, are documented each year.

Eighteen percent of EU land is covered by legislation to protect the environment, under a programme of designated 'Natura' territories, but only four percent of coastal and marine areas enjoy similarly safeguards.

In one striking example, Potocnik said some "35 percent of food resources... depend on pollination by bees and other pollinators" and cited research that insect pollination in the EU has "an estimated economic value of 15 billion euros per year."

He said the "uncontrolled spread on non-native land of animals or insects" from other habitats "causes some 12.5 billion euros worth of damage each year in the EU."

The European Commission readily admitted that 2010 EU targets were badly missed, hence the recalibration after a United Nations conference set out global goals last year in Nagoya, Japan.

The new Brussels strategy followed commitments made by EU leaders in March 2010 -- to "halt" the loss of EU biodiversity by 2020, and "protect, value and restore" EU biodiversity by 2050.

Lost "mainly due to changes in land use, pollution, the over-exploitation of resources, the uncontrolled spread of non-native species and climate change," Potocnik set out a six-pronged approach to tackling the problem.

He listed: "Full implementation" of existing nature protection legislation; "increased use" of green infrastructure; "sustainability of agriculture and forestry" activities; "safeguarding" ; controlling invasive ; and "stepping up" the EU's contribution to global action.

Explore further: Data backs limits on deep-sea fishing by depth

Related Stories

Data backs limits on deep-sea fishing by depth

August 27, 2015

Researchers reporting in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on August 27 have evidence in support of a clearly defined depth limit for deep-sea fishing in Europe. The findings come just as the European Union considers ...

Report finds freshwater life is on the way out

August 17, 2015

The majority of New Zealand's freshwater species are disappearing. That's the message of the Society for Conservation Biology's new report, which two of New Zealand's leading freshwater ecologists Massey University's Dr Mike ...

Shade may mitigate invasive plant presence and richness

August 12, 2015

Does more shade limit the presence of invasive plants along streams and rivers? That intriguing possibility was suggested in "Habitat limitations on invasive communities in urban riparian areas," which was posted online by ...

Recommended for you

Secrets of a heat-loving microbe unlocked

September 4, 2015

Scientists studying how a heat-loving microbe transfers its DNA from one generation to the next say it could further our understanding of an extraordinary superbug.

Plants also suffer from stress

September 4, 2015

High salt in soil dramatically stresses plant biology and reduces the growth and yield of crops. Now researchers have found specific proteins that allow plants to grow better under salt stress, and may help breed future generations ...

Ancient walnut forests linked to languages, trade routes

September 4, 2015

If Persian walnut trees could talk, they might tell of the numerous traders who moved along the Silk Roads' thousands of miles over thousands of years, carrying among their valuable merchandise the seeds that would turn into ...

Huddling rats behave as a 'super-organism'

September 3, 2015

Rodents huddle together when it is cold, they separate when it is warm, and at moderate temperatures they cycle between the warm center and the cold edges of the group. In a new study published in PLOS Computational Biology, ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

El_Nose
not rated yet May 04, 2011
i know people will disagree with me but

its a natural cycle to loss biodiveristy -- when something happens that changes the landscape of the planet or a new more powerful predator arrives things die off and those that survive are better suited to deal with what is in it's environment -- either devolping a natural defense to the new intruder or find a way to kill it...

Yes humans have forced nature to die off and we are losing species -- but I have very little hope that humans are going to change -- We haven't changed in 10000 yrs, you thing we are going to change now??? -- so nature is starting to change to deal with incorporating us into the bigger picture -- I say let it -- in a million years when this turn of evolution runs it's course Heck who knows dog might be able to talks to us and

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.