Biodiversity Loss Costs EU 450 Billion Euros a Year

BRUSSELS, Belgium, January 26, 2012 (ENS) – A silent crisis of biodiversity loss is costing the European Union 450 billion euros (US$590 billion) a year, adding to the stress of the ongoing financial crisis, the European Parliament heard on Tuesday.

The loss estimate was presented in a draft report to the Environment Committee by Dutch MEP Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy, Special Rapporteur on Biodiversity of the European Parliament. He represents the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, ALDE, the third largest political group in the European Parliament.

“A quarter of the plants and animals in Europe are in danger of extinction,” Gerbrandy told the committee. “This destruction of nature will cost about three percent annual economic growth – equivalent to that which Europe needs at present to rescue the Euro. Biodiversity loss, though, continues year after year.”

MEP Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy (Image courtesy Office of the MEP)

Gerbrandy advocates the “No Net Loss” principle whereby governments and companies must make up for the damage they cause to nature through the funding of compensation projects – similar to the “Polluter Pays” principle.

“Natural capital needs to be integrated into the national accounts,” said Gerbrandy. “It is profitable to cut down a forest. We need to make it economically worthwhile to preserve it too.”

“This is the most effective way to stop the decline of biodiversity. Subsidies that cause damage to nature must be eliminated as soon as possible. Now we pay twice: we first finance the destruction of nature and then pay to fix it.”

In 2012 the European Union has a historic opportunity to make significant steps towards halting the loss of biodiversity, he said.

While the world missed its agreed target to stem biodiversity loss by 2010, the European Parliament is trying again with a strategy to end biodiversity loss by 2020.

The Arctic fox, Alopex lagopus, is considered to be Critically Endangered in the EU, driven close to extinction by hunting and trapping. (Photo © Vilda – Rollin Verlinde courtesy European Communities)

In June 2011, the European Council of Ministers endorsed the EU Biodiversity Strategy 2020, as presented by the European Commission. In its conclusions, the Council said it is, “DEEPLY CONCERNED that the EU and the global biodiversity 2010 targets have not been met and that Europe’s biodiversity remains under severe threat from, inter alia, changes in land use, pollution, invasive alien species, unsustainable use of natural resources and climate change…”

The European Parliament is drafting and adopting its own report on the Strategy to put forward its own recommendations to the Commission.

“The overhaul of the Common Agricultural Policy, Cohesion Policy and policy on Fisheries presents a golden opportunity to integrate and mainstream the preservation of biodiversity into sectoral legislation that has the greatest impact,” urged Gerbrandy.

In its June 2011 resolution, the Council listed reasons for the failure of the previous attempt, saying, “…the Strategy responds to the main obstacles and threats that prevented the achievement of the 2010 target, including insufficient sectoral integration across EU policies in particular in the areas of agriculture, fisheries, water, climate and energy and other policies such as forestry, and shortcomings in the implementation of existing environmental EU legislation; inadequate funding and specific policy gaps, relating to, among others, invasive alien species, green infrastructure, including ecological connectivity, and ecosystem services, within and beyond protected areas, as well as scientific knowledge and data gaps;”

Native to Spain and Portugal, the Iberian lynx, Lynx pardinus, is the world’s most threatened felid. (Photo © Programa de Conservacion Ex Situ del Lince Iberico courtesy European Communities)

Said Catherine Bearder of the UK, a Liberal Democrat who drafted the opinion for Parliament’s Regional Policy Committee, “Biodiversity loss and overconsumption of natural resources are problems affecting all our regions and have a big impact on the lives of all EU citizens.”

“Local and regional governments must consider these threats in their planning policies and the EU must make sure that environmental proofing is built into Structural and Cohesion Funding,” said Bearder.

Europe’s natural heritage is showing a steep decline, according to the latest research, published last November. The European Red List, compiled by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature as part of the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, assessed a about 6,000 species of Europe’s native animals and plants, finding that a large proportion of molluscs, freshwater fish and vascular plants are now at risk of extinction to some degree.

The assessment shows that 44 percent of all freshwater molluscs, 37 percent of freshwater fish, 23 percent of amphibians, 20 percent of a selection of terrestrial molluscs, 19 percent of reptiles, 15 percent of mammals and of dragonflies, 13 percent of birds, 11 percent of a selection of saproxylic beetles, nine percent of butterflies, and 467 species of vascular plant species are now under threat.

Included in the vascular plant category are the wild relatives of crop plants which are vital for food security yet are often neglected in terms of conservation. The Critically Endangered Beta patula is a close wild relative of cultivated beets and an important gene source for enhancing virus resistance.

Spengler’s freshwater mussel, Margaritifera auricularia (Photo courtesy Desde el Sekano)

Other crop plants that show worrying levels of threat are sugar beet, wheat, oat and lettuce – all economically important crops in Europe.

European Environment Commissioner Janez Potocnik said in November, “The well-being of people in Europe and all over the world depends on goods and services that nature provides. If we don’t address the reasons behind this decline and act urgently to stop it, we could pay a very heavy price indeed.”

Freshwater molluscs are the most threatened group assessed so far. Spengler’s freshwater mussel, Margaritifera auricularia, once widespread, is now restricted to a handful of rivers in France and Spain. Currently listed as Critically Endangered, it was considered to be nearly extinct in the 1980s. The species is one of two for which a European-level Action Plan was designed, and there are ongoing conservation programs which allow hope for its future.

Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias (Photo courtesy UNEP)

“The figures confirm the worrying condition of European molluscs,” said Annabelle Cuttelod, IUCN Coordinator of the European Red List. “When combined with the high level of threats faced by freshwater fishes and amphibians, we can see that the European freshwater ecosystems are really under serious threats that require urgent conservation action.”

Freshwater fish across the European Union are threatened by pollution, overfishing, habitat loss and the introduction of alien species. Sturgeon are particularly at risk, with all but one of the eight European species now classed Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List.

One year into this United Nations Decade on Biodiversity, all of these concerns are on the radar of a brand new executive secretary of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias of Brazil.

On Monday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appointed Dias to the post; he is currently the national secretary for biodiversity and forests at the Brazilian Ministry of the Environment.

As a member of the Brazilian delegation, Dias has been deeply involved with the negotiations and implementation of the biodiversity treaty from its beginnings. He replaces Ahmed Djoghlaf of Algeria.

The Convention on Biological Diversity was opened for signature at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in June 1992 and entered into force on December 29, 1993.

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