EU off-course on meeting 2010 biodiversity target

Major additional efforts are required before the EU even comes close to meeting the goals of the 2006 Biodiversity Action Plan, according to an interim assessment.

The EU will not meet its 2010 target of halting biodiversity loss without significant additional efforts, according to the European Commission.

This is the key conclusion of a mid-term assessment of progress towards implementation of the 2006 EC Biodiversity Action Plan.1 Described as "the last real opportunity for stock-taking before 2010," the assessment reveals limited progress towards achieving the stated goals. There is widespread recognition that halting biodiversity loss would yield environmental and economic benefits (ENDS Report 401, pp 54-56 ). Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas called on EU member states to "redouble their efforts" so the benefits of biodiversity could be retained.

The ‘health check’ on biodiversity reveals half of the species and up to 80% of the habitat types of conservation interest as having an "unfavourable" conservation status. More than 40% of European bird species are similarly described.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and BirdLife International deplored the "shameful failure" to stem biodiversity loss and highlighted the gulf between stated ambition and action. Mark Avery, RSPB’s conservation director, said: "Despite commitments and promises from the EU and member states, the list of species in need of urgent help is growing. Failure to act now will see wildlife squeezed from more places and inevitably, some species will be doomed to extinction."

The 2006 Action Plan outlined goals in four policy areas; biodiversity in the EU, the EU and global biodiversity, biodiversity and climate change, and the knowledge base.

On preserving EU biodiversity, the interim assessment notes progress. The Natura 2000 network of protected areas have been extended to cover 17% of EU land. The new member states have been included and completion of the terrestrial part of Natura 2000 by 2010 is "on target", though more effort is required with respect to the marine network. The rapid decline in farmland birds has also started to stabilise, although recovery is some years away.

Targeted measures have reversed some adverse trends, but greater efforts are needed to replicate successes. The assessment also cites adoption of the Marine Strategy Directive in June 2008 as progress (ENDS Report 401, p 57 ), though legislative gaps persist, notably due to the failure to adopt the Soil Framework Directive (ENDS Report 391, pp 50-51 ). It also calls for greater integration of biodiversity concerns with sectoral policies, particularly those relating to regional development and agriculture. Growing crops for biofuels could, in the absence of environmental safeguards, damage EU biodiversity, says the report.

The assessment notes that outside the EU biodiversity loss is occurring at unprecedented levels. With eco-systems degraded to crisis point, it calls for a "major strengthening" of global action to reduce the pace of loss. More appreciation of the EU’s impact on global biodiversity loss is also required, particularly with respect to its consumption of commodities such as soy, palm oil and metals.

On biodiversity and climate change, the assessment calls for wider recognition of ecosystems’ role in reducing exposure to climate change. A Commission white paper on adapting to climate change is due this year, aimed at enhancing policy synergies with biodiversity protection.

The assessment calls for enhancing the knowledge base and funds to support the development of biodiversity policy at the Community and member state levels. The Commission also backed proposals to establish an Intergovernmental Science Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystems Services to strengthen the role of independent scientific advice in policy-making.

The progress of individual member states in implementing the Action Plan was outlined for the first time. The UK’s record was mixed. On measures aimed at preserving biodiversity, the UK was deemed by June 2008 to have met 95% of its target on selecting Natura 2000 sites for species and habitats protection under the Habitats Directive. Proportionately, ten countries had achieved more progress than the UK in this area by the middle of last year.

On the UK’s performance on global biodiversity, the assessment notes "substantial funding" by the UK of schemes supporting biodiversity initiatives in developing countries. But the most recent figures show spending on biodiversity-related aid amounted to just 0.16% of the UK’s 2006 bilateral (nation to nation) aid budget.

With respect to UK actions on biodiversity and climate change, the Commission welcomed the Climate Change Act. It also noted progress in measures aimed at increasing biodiversity resilience to climate change, but lamented the absence of any clear timetable for implementing them. Finally, UK efforts at strengthening the biodiversity knowledge base were commended. The existence of dedicated programmes for biodiversity research was welcomed, as was the funding provided by government departments, research councils and environmental protection agencies.

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