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: Genetic barcoding system scans marine species for pests

Related Stories

The modern, molecular hunt for the world's biodiversity

October 27, 2015

The news is full of announcements about newly discovered forms of life. This fall, we learned of a 30,000-year-old giant virus found in frozen Siberia. Until now, known viruses have contained so little genetic information ...

Antarctica's wildlife in a changing climate

October 27, 2015

Despite being one of the coldest, most inhospitable places on Earth, Antarctica hosts a wealth of biodiversity, and its remoteness and extreme climate have lent a certain amount of protection to the many species that call ...

Recommended for you

Study suggests fish can experience 'emotional fever'

November 25, 2015

(—A small team of researchers from the U.K. and Spain has found via lab study that at least one type of fish is capable of experiencing 'emotional fever,' which suggests it may qualify as a sentient being. In their ...

New gene map reveals cancer's Achilles heel

November 25, 2015

Scientists have mapped out the genes that keep our cells alive, creating a long-awaited foothold for understanding how our genome works and which genes are crucial in disease like cancer.

How cells in the developing ear 'practice' hearing

November 25, 2015

Before the fluid of the middle ear drains and sound waves penetrate for the first time, the inner ear cells of newborn rodents practice for their big debut. Researchers at Johns Hopkins report they have figured out the molecular ...

How cells 'climb' to build fruit fly tracheas

November 25, 2015

Fruit fly windpipes are much more like human blood vessels than the entryway to human lungs. To create that intricate network, fly embryonic cells must sprout "fingers" and crawl into place. Now researchers at The Johns Hopkins ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

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.