EU Overseas entities and their natural capital


Courtesy of European Environment Agency (EEA)

Scattered worldwide, the European Union (EU) overseas entities (comprising Outermost Regions (ORs) and Overseas Countries and Territories (OCTs)) are home to an outstanding diversity of species, ecosystems and landscapes. These 34 regions and territories host around 70 % of Europe’s species and are recognised as having biodiversity of global significance.

This ‘natural capital’1 supports the daily needs of local communities, their economies and plays a key role in both climate change mitigation and adaptation. In many places, ecosystems and their services are highly vulnerable given existing pressures. The management of these ecosystems is of the utmost importance in view of sustaining human well-being and models of development. However, much is still unknown about the natural capital in EU overseas entities. There is therefore a pressing need for an improved knowledge base. The ‘Message’ from the 2008 conference at Reunion Island2 underlined the critical need for establishing “long-term monitoring programmes as well as biological and socio-economic indicators adapted to the constraints specific to the ORs and OCTs”3.

The EU includes 34 overseas entities: 8 ORs4 and 26 OCTs5 linked to 6 Member States6. They provide the EU with strategic gateways for regional cooperation activities in the Arctic, the Antarctic, the Caribbean, the Indian Ocean, the Macaronesia, the North Atlantic, the Pacific, the Sub-Antarctic, the South Atlantic, and the West African regions. ORs and OCTs are mainly islands and therefore the sea and the coastal areas play a fundamental role in their cultural, social and economic spheres. These regions also contribute to a significant extension of the European Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), 60 % of which is adjacent to the EU overseas entities [1] making it the world’s largest and most diverse marine EEZ.

A unique natural capital…
Biodiversity in the EU overseas entities represents a unique and critical part of Europe’s natural heritage. Together, they host more than 20 % of the world’s coral reefs and lagoons, and host around 70 % of Europe’s species - much more than on the European mainland. For example, the islands of New Caledonia (an OCT of France) have a similar number of endemic species if compared to the European Union mainland [2]. Such diversity has led to France being included among the world’s 18 ‘mega diverse countries’- the only European country on the list. Greenland, an OCT of Denmark, has the largest terrestrial protected area on Earth (the Northeast Greenland National Park of 972 000 km2). French Guiana, an OR of France in northern South America, has one of the least disturbed areas of rain forest on Earth. Almost all European territories are located either in Biodiversity Hotspots [3] or in High Biodiversity Wilderness Areas [4].

Such globally significant biodiversity plays a key role for the continued provisioning of the many ecosystem goods and services that benefit local economies and people. In most EU overseas entities communities rely directly on the natural capital these ecosystems provide. For example, ecotourism and fisheries activities illustrate the critical role of biodiversity and ecosystem services in some of the entities: i.e. income from fisheries makes up more than 60 % of the GDP of the Falkland Islands [1].

…is under pressure…
Having developed in relative isolation and protection, island biodiversity and ecosystems are particularly vulnerable to changes in the environment. Human induced pressures generate threats in the form of habitat change, pollution, over-exploitation, invasive alien species (IAS) and climate change. Cumulatively, these threats exert considerable impacts causing biodiversity loss, ecosystem degradation, loss of ecosystem services and generally weakening ecosystem resilience. This is illustrated by available information on the number of endangered species.

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