European Environment Agency (EEA)



Courtesy of European Environment Agency (EEA)


This biodiversity assessment is integrating our knowledge on species, habitats and protected areas into the complex issues of ecosystem management, ecosystem services, human health and wellbeing. Chapter 2 includes an overview of the state of biodiversity in the EU and EEA member countries and an analysis on pressures with a more specific focus on terrestrial ecosystems. Biodiversity loss and ecosystem services are discussed in Chapter 3. Chapter 4 considers outlooks, responses, next steps and knowledge gaps. Most of the information on which this assessment is based, derives from assessments of the SEBI 2010 indicator set, the EU Biodiversity Baseline (EEA, 2010a) and the 2010 biodiversity assessment report (EEA, 2010b).

1.1 Global biodiversity loss

Biodiversity includes all living organisms found in the atmosphere, on land, in the soil and in water, their genes, their communities and the habitats and ecosystems of which they are part. All species have a role and provide the fabric of life on which humanity depends: from the smallest bacteria in the soil to the largest mammal in the ocean. The dynamics of species and habitats are interrelated with the water cycle, the mineral cycle and the energy flow. These processes together determine the state of ecosystems that people manage and on which they depend.

A decade ago, more than 80 % of the global land surface was estimated to be influenced by human presence and activities such as cultivation, urbanisation and transport (Sanderson et al., 2002). The fragility of global food, water and energy systems has become apparent over recent years. For example, arable land per person declined globally from 0.43 ha in 1962 to 0.26 ha in 1998. The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) expects this value to fall further by 1.5 % per year between now and 2030, if no major policy changes are initiated (FAO, 2009).

Environmental pressures such as habitat change, pollution, overexploitation, biological invasions and climate change are accelerating the global species extinction rate, making it perhaps a thousand times more rapid than the estimated natural rate of one in a million species a year. Natural habitat loss continues at an alarming rate: even though the net loss in forest area is slowing at the global scale, about 13 million ha of natural forests were converted to agriculture between 2000 and 2005 (FAO, 2006). Rapid changes in the Arctic exemplify the interconnectedness of the planet and how policies in one part of the world can severely affect the environment, biodiversity and livelihoods in another (Johnsen et al., 2010).

The loss of biodiversity is an issue of global, regional and local concern. The Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD) was signed together with the Climate Change and the Desertification Conventions at the Rio Summit in 1992. The CBD supports sustainable development by promoting nature and human wellbeing, recognising that biodiversity underpins the delivery of all ecosystem services, most of which have been degraded at the global level (MA, 2005). Examples of ecosystem services are the provision of food, energy, fibres and medicines, and regulatory mechanisms such as nutrient and water cycling, climate regulation, soil formation and retention, pollination, and control of agricultural pests and diseases.

The global target of reducing biodiversity loss by 2010 was endorsed in 2002 (see Section 1.2). The study on The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB, 2009) has further linked ecological and economic considerations into discussing natural capital. It also showed that the cost of inaction in the face of global biodiversity loss in a business‑as-usual scenario is estimated at around an untenable EUR 50 billion per year.

1.2 European policies and the 2010 target

The cooperation of European countries on nature conservation policies started in the 1970s, especially aimed at species and habitats conservation and site designations within the frame of global agreements such as the Ramsar Convention on wetlands (1971), the Bonn Convention on migratory species (1979), the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES, 1973) and the more specific Bern Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats (1980).

A broader approach to biodiversity conservation was initiated in the 1990's with the Pan European Biodiversity and Landscape Diversity Strategy (1995), aimed at supporting the implementation of the CBD in Europe. Forest Europe — the Ministerial Conference on the Protection of Forests in Europe (MCPFE), was initiated in 1991 to build cooperation for the sustainable management of the continent's forests. Cooperation within the framework of the regional seas conventions of Barcelona (1982), Helsinki (1992), OSPAR (1998) and Bucharest (2002) provides common policies for safeguarding marine species, habitats and sites. The more recent Alpine (1991) and Carpathian (2003) Conventions are aimed at an integrated approach in managing those important mountain ecosystems for sustainability and conservation.

Despite the above initiatives, however, drivers of change continued to affect Europe's biodiversity and in 2001–2002 a set of global, pan‑European and EU commitments to formally set a target to effectively reduce or halt biodiversity decline as a contribution to poverty alleviation and to the benefit of all life on earth by 2010 was endorsed (EEA, 2006a). In line with these international policy targets and the European commitment of halting biodiversity loss by 2010, nature and biodiversity is one of the four priority areas of the EU's 6th Environment Action Programme (EC, 2002) alongside climate change, health and the quality of life, and natural resources and waste.

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