Commissioner Dimas said: 'Biodiversity loss is irreversible. Since the 1970s, the European Union has been committed to protecting nature, and we are working hard to realise our target of halting biodiversity loss on our continent by 2010. Achieving this target requires everyone across the Union to work together to ensure that our ecosystems are sustainable and healthy. Complacency is not an option. '
Pollution and man-made disasters seen as the biggest threats by Europeans
According to the Eurobarometer survey, Europeans see air and water pollution and man-made disasters such as oil spills and industrial accidents as the greatest threats to biodiversity (27%). This is followed by climate change (19%), the intensification of agriculture, deforestation and overfishing (13%), and the construction of roads, housing, or industrial areas (8%). Only a fifth of Europeans surveyed thought that they are currently affected by the loss of biodiversity, but 70% think it will have an affect on them in the future or on their children.
A moral obligation to preserve nature
For 93% of Europeans, preserving biodiversity is a moral obligation affecting current generations as stewards of nature. European citizens are also aware that their well-being and quality of life depend on biodiversity and 75% believe that biodiversity loss can have negative economic ramifications.
Two thirds of Europeans say they already make a personal effort to protect biodiversity, while a third say they would like to do more. A fifth of Europeans surveyed say they would act if they knew what they could do to stop biodiversity loss.
European Union policy to combat biodiversity loss
Ecosystems worldwide are in decline. The biodiversity they harbour provides the ecosystem goods and services – food, fuel, fibre, quality air and water, soil fertility and nutrients – which are at the heart of our modern economic prosperity. When ecosystems reach the point of no return, the damage is permanent. In the European Union, this decline translates into collapsing fish stocks, impoverishment of soil, flood damage, and disappearing wildlife.
To overcome this decline the European Union has legislated on biodiversity since the 1970s. The cornerstone of the EU's biodiversity policy is the Natura 2000 network, which is an EU-wide network of nature protection areas for Europe's most valuable habitats and endangered species. This network – which represents about 20% of the Union's total land area – was substantially extended in November 2007 by an area of about 90,000 square kilometres, the size of Portugal. Despite its size, Europeans have little knowledge of Natura 2000 – 80% say they have never heard of it, and of those who have few know exactly what it is.
In 2001, European leaders committed the European Union to halting biodiversity loss by 2010. In 2006, a European Commission Communication set out an action plan with concrete measures outlining the responsibilities of the European Union and Member States in achieving this objective. Some progress has been made to halt biodiversity loss in the European Union but much remains to be done.
A major communications campaign will be launched this year to engage Europeans in protecting biodiversity, and to help channel the concerns revealed by this survey.