Halting biodiversity loss by 2010 – an EU action plan

In May 2006, the European Commission unveiled a new action plan on biodiversity, the fifth of its kind since a 2001 summit of European heads of state agreed to halt biodiversity loss in the EU by the end of the decade. The latest initiative aims primarily to clarify responsibilities concerning the implementation of already-existing legislation.

Four biodiversity action plans have already been adopted since 2001 under a wider EU biodiversity strategy agreed in 1998. The four plans relate to: 1) conservation of natural resources, 2) agriculture, 3) fisheries, and 4) economic and development cooperation outside Europe.

These resulted from a renewed push in favour of nature-conservation measures by the then 15 EU member states. At the Gothenburg summit in 2001, they agreed to halt biodiversity loss in the EU by 2010 and to restore habitats and natural ecosystems. In 2002, they joined some 130 world leaders in agreeing to "significantly reduce the rate of biodiversity loss globally by 2010".

Today, nature and biodiversity are one of the four priorities of the Sixth Environmental Action Programme covering the period 2002-2012 (see EURACTIV LinksDossier on the 6EAP).

On 22 May 2006, the EU Commission unveiled an action plan to halt biodiversity loss by 2010. Unlike its predecessors, the latest plan does not suggest ambitious laws to protect migrating wild birds and natural habitats. More modestly, it tries to assign responsibilities concerning the implementation of existing legislation.

In the EU, the policy framework is already largely in place, the Commission stated. Natura 2000, an EU-wide network of protected areas, now covers some 18% of the territory of the EU-15 and is being extended to the EU-10 and seas.

The Common Agricultural Policy and Common Fisheries Policies have recently been reformed to take better account of wildlife, plants and forests. Funding has also been devoted to biodiversity research. 

Yet some two-thirds of ecosystems worldwide are in decline, the Commission says. In the EU, 42% of mammals, 43% of birds, 45% of butterflies, 30% of amphibians, 45% of reptiles and 52% of freshwater fish are threatened with extinction.

To try to remedy this, the Action Plan identifies four priority areas:

  • Biodiversity in the EU: Greater commitment from member states to propose, designate, protect and effectively manage sites protected under the Natura 2000 network. Key actions suggested include optimising the use of available measures under the reformed Common agriculture and fisheries policy and improving planning at national, regional and local levels.
  • The EU and global biodiversity: Strengthening coherence and synergies between trade and development co-operation; promoting more effective implementation of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity and related agreements, including measures to address tropical deforestation.
  • Biodiversity and climate change: Honouring Kyoto commitments and putting in place more ambitious global-emissions targets post-2012, in order to limit the global annual mean temperature increase to no more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels, as well as minimising potential damage from new wind farms or biomass energy crops being promoted to help mitigate global warming.
  • The knowledge base: Strengthening the European Research Area, its international dimension, research infrastructures, the connection between science and policy and improving comparability of biodiversity data. 

On the financial aspects, the Commission says that it plans to use existing funding programs such as the rural development funding, cohesion and structural funds, the European Fisheries Fund, LIFE+ and the Seventh Framework Programme for Research.

However, it insists that the EU's limited budget for the 2007-2013 period restricts the amount of Community co-financing available under Natura 2000, and that "financing from member states' own resources will be crucial".

For the Commission, which has placed growth and jobs at the top of its political agenda, the challenge is to find the right balance between boosting the EU's sluggish economy while reducing the negative impacts of growth. 

It has even tried to put a price tag on the economic benefits brought about by "ecosystem goods and services" such as air, water, food production, or the regulation of the earth's climate. The Commission estimates these "goods and services" at around €26 trillion per year globally, or "more than twice the value of what humans produce each year". "These services underpin EU growth, jobs and well-being," it argues.

But environmental organisations such as the WWF and the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) say that the Barroso Commission has placed environmental protection at the back of its policy objectives. Less than two years after it was nominated, they argue that there now is "ample evidence" that environmental protection has been "politically downgraded" to a side role, to the benefit of the Commission's growth and jobs objectives (EURACTIV 18 May 2006). 

"The EU needs to do more than document and monitor the loss of biodiversity; it needs to review its own destructive policies for their part in the crisis, and take drastic measures to revise them," said Sebastien Risso of Greenpeace European Unit. To achieve this, Greenpeace says that the EU should place more emphasis on external policies, for example by preventing the import and sale of timber, timber products and fish from illegal and unsustainable sources.

Supporters of the 'ecological footprint' theory aim to calculate the amount of land, water and other natural resources needed to support human activity on the planet. According to this approach, the most advanced economies clearly leave a larger 'footprint' than less-developed nations. And the strain they place on ecosystems rises as the global economy grows. Eco-efficiency gains made in developed nations are inevitably wiped off by a booming world population and the rapid rise of huge economies such as China and India.

Countdown 2010, an alliance on biodiversity launched by the World Conservation Union, was of the same opinion. "It has taken the Commission five years to launch this Biodiversity Communication. With only four years remaining, it is very clear that we have no time to waste. Implementing all actions of the ambitious road map to reach the target means that action needs to be taken every ten days until 2010," said Sebastian Winkler, the head of the Countdown 2010 initiative. "Actions need to speak louder than words in the fight against declining biodiversity," he said.

In 2006, the World Conservation Union (IUCN) added some 530 species to its "red list" of endangered species, illustrating what it describes as a clear trend: "Biodiversity loss is increasing, not slowing down." The IUCN points to the far-reaching "implications of this trend for the productivity and resilience of ecosystems and livelihoods of billions of people who depend on them".

  • Dec. 2008: Commission progress report on the implementation of the EU's Biodiversity Action Plan acknowledges that the EU is not even close to achieving its target of halting biodiversity loss by 2010 (EURACTIV 17/12/08). 
  • 27-28 April 2009Conference on 'Biodiversity protection beyond 2010'. Commission presents an eight-point plan on priorities for EU action, and calls for the development of an ambitious post-2010 EU vision and target.
  • 22 May 2009: European Environment Agency publishes report on progress towards EU's 2010 biodiversity target.
  • 13 July 2009: Commission report reveals that only a small proportion of species and habitat types protected under the EU Habitats Directive have "good" conservation status (EURACTIV 14/07/09).
  • 7 Sept. 2009High-level Meeting on Biodiversity organised by Swedish EU Presidency.
  • 13 Nov. 2009: 'The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity' (TEEBstudy underlines that biodiversity loss has direct economic repercussions that are widely underestimated, and that the cost of nature conservation is by far outweighed by its societal and economic benefits (EURACTIV 16/11/09). 
  • 2010International Year of Biodiversity.
  • 2010: Commission hopes to establish an Intergovernmental Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES).
  • 19 Jan. 2010: Commission Communication outlines policy options for EU action on biodiversity after 2010.
  • 26-27 Jan. 2010: Spanish EU Presidency conference on 'Post-2010 Biodiversity Vision and Target' in Madrid. 
  • 10 May 2010: UN Global Biodiversity Outlook.
  • October 2010: International negotiations on a new global post-2010 biodiversity vision and target, in Nagoya, Japan.
  • By end of 2010: Commission to present an EU 2020 biodiversity strategy. 

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