European Law Monitor

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  European Law Monitor newsBiodiversity: will our grandchildren still eat fish?

In Europe today, 52% of freshwater fish species, 45% of reptiles and butterflies, 42% of indigenous mammals, 30% of amphibians and 800 plant species, inter alia, are threatened with extinction. On the high seas, stocks of cod, haddock and halibut are dying out. Much remains to be done if the European Union is to achieve its aim of stemming the decline in biodiversity by 2010.

In 2001 the EU Heads of State or Government decided "to halt the decline of biodiversity by 2010" and "to restore habitats and natural systems".   With three years to go to the target date, MEPs voiced their "profound concern at the continuing loss of biodiversity" and stressed "the urgent need for an effort to meet commitments".   Because according to an own-initiative report drafted by Adamos ADAMOU   (GUE/NGL, CY) biodiversity loss is as important a threat as climate change.

Member States short of political will

Mr Adamou says that "If we do not move towards sustainable use, there will be no fish left for our grandchildren". Plenty of initiatives have been taken, "but they are not getting adequate results", according to the rapporteur and to other MEPs speaking before the vote in the committee: "there is too little funding and too little political will among the Member States". A view that is shared by the European Commission itself.
Among the existing initiatives, the Natura 2000 network, which protects natural habitats, today protects 18% of the territory of the EU-15.   For over ten years now, the common agricultural policy (CAP) has included environmental measures. But MEPs consider that CAP-driven specialisation and intensification have eroded biodiversity in recent decades.
The current reform of the fisheries policy also seeks to reduce pressure on the marine environment, but fishing still too often uses destructive and non-selective technologies. Many pieces of legislation are in the pipeline to safeguard air, water and soil quality and to cut pollution.   And in 2006 the Commission proposed a broader action plan on biodiversity.

Maintaining biodiversity demands unprecedented efforts

MEPs welcome this plan but consider that it "will be insufficient to conserve biodiversity and sustain ecosystem services in the longer term."   "Ecosystem services" include the production of food, fuel, fibre and medicines, regulation of water, air and climate, maintenance of soil fertility and cycling of nutrients. These services provided by nature are the basis of sustainable development and of many economic activities.
According to the report, Natura 2000 must be strengthened not only to safeguard species but also to restore them. Biodiversity considerations must be further integrated into agriculture and fisheries policies and into spatial planning at national, regional and local levels.
MEPs also urge a Community response to the threat posed by the introduction - whether voluntary or accidental - of "invasive alien species and alien genotypes" (this is the second threat, after the destruction of habitats). The Commission acknowledges that at present it does not have information on actions taken by the Member States to combat alien species and MEPs underline the decisive role that immuno contraception could play against these species. They ask the Commission to ban the introduction of these species and to evaluate the potential risks that genetically-modified organisms could pose to biodiversity.
They call for measures to regulate deep sea bottom trawling, and to ensure adherence to scientific recommendations when setting catch quotas.
MEPs stress the need to reduce imports of tropical woods and the adverse impact that biofuel production could have on tropical forests. They also advocate stepping up the biodiversity research effort, which they say is currently "far too low."
However clever humans are, they can never make up through artificial means for the natural resources they are destroying. Hence, halting the decline in biodiversity will require "unprecedented efforts in adapting our activities to the needs of natural systems" says Mr Adamou.   And not the opposite.

Reproduced with the permission of the European Parliament REF.: 20070516IPR06753