EC implements plans to halt loss of biodiversity

The European Commission has adopted a series of action plans to integrate the protection of biodiversity into EU agricultural, fishery, environment and development and co-operation policies.

The aim of the action plans, approved on 28 March, is to stop losses in wildlife, ecosystems, varieties of crops, domestic animals and fish. The plans define concrete actions and measures and specify measurable targets to ensure a reversal of the current trend, stemming from the European Community Biodiversity Strategy adopted in 1998 where the Commission promised to spell out precisely how it would achieve the objectives of the strategy, and implement the Convention on Biological Diversity adopted in Rio in 1992.

The EC says that during recent decades and in spite of past and current efforts the reduction and loss of biodiversity in Europe has accelerated dramatically, including:

  • the extinction of 64 plants endemic to Europe, with 45% of butterflies, 38% of bird species and 5% of mollusc species considered as threatened in the wild;
  • the loss of around 60% of wetlands through intense agricultural practices;
  • the extinction of 97 breeds of domestic animals, with almost 30% of the surviving breeds currently at risk; and
  • an ‘alarming’ state of some European fisheries resources, due to excessive fishing (see related story)

The EC originally presented the Community Biodiversity Strategy in 1998, saying that traditional natural conservation policies were not enough to preserve the world’s biodiversity. The strategy defines a framework for action and focuses on integration of biodiveristy concerns into relevant sectoral policies, such as agriculture, fisheries, conservation of natural resources and economic and development cooperation, while the new action plans outline the necessary steps to tackle the loss in biodiversity in each area. The plans also establish how to identify appropriate indicators for monitoring and evaluating performance in the implementation of the actions and measures envisaged, and their effectiveness.

The action plan on conservation of natural resources demonstrates the Commission’s determination to full implementation of the Birds and Habitats Directives and to provide support for the conservation and sustainable use of areas designated under them. It also spells out how it intends to use general environment instruments, such as the water framework directive, the strategy for integrated coastal zone management and environment impact assessment, to help preserve biodiversity across the whole of the Union.

The action plan on agriculture analyses the interrelations between agriculture and biological diversity, identifying seven priorities to promote biodiversity in farming activities:

  • ensuring a reasoned intensification in agricultural practices;
  • maintaining an economically viable and socially acceptable agricultural activity, in particular in biodiversity-rich areas, where these activities have been weakened;
  • using the potential of agri-environmental measures for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity;
  • ensuring the existence of an ecological infrastructure at the level of the whole territory;
  • supporting actions aimed at the enhancement of genetic diversity in agriculture and in the maintenance of local and traditional varieties and breeds;
  • encouraging the marketing of landraces and varieties that are naturally adapted to the local and regional conditions; and
  • preventing the abundance and spreading of non-native species.

It also offers suggestions for a broader reflection on the Common Agriculture Policy, which the EC says is becoming “more and more necessary.”

The action plan on fisheries deals with threats due to both conventional fisheries and aquaculture activities, reporting on: the conservation and sustainable use of fish stocks; the protection of non-target species, habitats and ecosystems from fishing activities; and preventing aquaculture from having an impact on different ecosystems.

The action plan on economic and development co-operation focus on poverty eradication as biodiversity and development are interlinked and points to the need for improved links with EU Member States and international development co-operation agencies, programmes and institutions in the Member States and at international level (e.g. World Bank and the Global Environment Facility). It also considers the need for building up capacity to manage development and environment issues within the Commission.

“These action plans demonstrate the Commission’s commitment to policy integration and sustainable development,” commented Environment Commissioner Margot Wallström. “They represent stepping stones on the way to agreement on a sustainable development strategy at the European Council in Göteborg in June.”

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