Biodiversity is the variety of life on earth expressed at three levels – the diversity of ecosystems, the diversity of species and the diversity of genes. We, humans, are part of biodiversity and depend on many life support systems provided by biodiversity and ecosystems.
Ecosystems provide well-known services, the continued delivery of which is essential to our economic prosperity, security, health and other aspects of our quality of life. These “ecosystem services” include the air we breathe and the provision of goods such as food, fibre, fuel, freshwater and medicines. They include the regulation of climate, flooding, disease and water quality and essential supporting services such as soil formation, nutrient cycling, pollination and primary production. Besides, they include cultural services such as aesthetic, educational, recreational, psychological and spiritual benefits.
Biodiversity has therefore an intrinsic value, secures social and economic stability, contributes to delivering prosperity and reducing poverty, and plays a role in climate change mitigation and adaptation.
The most recent assessments conclude that the diversity of genes, species and ecosystems continues to decline at an unacceptable rate, as pressures on biodiversity remain constant or increase in intensity mainly as a result of human activities. This continued loss entails very serious ecological, economic and social consequences and it is likely to limit the Earth’s capacity to provide ecosystem services and to adapt to changing environmental conditions.
According to The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) Study, the annual loss of ecosystem services is estimated to be equivalent to around €50 billion, while by 2050 the accumulated welfare losses could be equivalent to seven per cent of annual consumption.
The main causes of biodiversity loss are well known: the destruction, degradation and fragmentation of habitats – for example as a result of conversion, intensification of production systems or construction – over-exploitation of natural resources, the spread of invasive alien species and pollution. In addition, the failure to account for the full economic values of ecosystems and biodiversity has been also a significant factor in their continuing loss and degradation. The invisibility of biodiversity values has often encouraged inefficient use or even destruction of the natural capital that is the foundation of our economies.
Recognising and fully aware of all these facts, the global community has committed to undertake effective and urgent action to halt the loss of biodiversity in order to ensure that by 2020 ecosystems are resilient and continue to provide essential services, thereby securing the planet’s variety of life and contributing to human well-being and poverty eradication.
Such commitment is part of the new Strategic Plan for Biodiversity adopted in Nagoya in October 2010 at the 10th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, together with the further development of the Strategy for Resource Mobilisation and the Nagoya Protocol on access to genetic resources and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from their utilisation. The EU has recognised Nagoya’s successful outcome, a main achievement in the global arena during 2010, the International Year of Biodiversity.
At the EU level, we are convinced that we need to lead by example, taking urgent measures to preserve our own biodiversity while reducing our negative impact on biodiversity beyond our borders. For this reason, the EU agreed on March 2010 on a headline target of halting the loss of biodiversity and the degradation of ecosystem services in the EU by 2020 and restoring them in so far as feasible, while stepping up the EU contribution to averting global biodiversity loss.
Given that we are almost six months after Nagoya, it is time to act and to translate the declarations made and the commitments undertaken last year into reality. This is clearly a common challenge and a common responsibility, and it is our obligation to address it from a global perspective and with an integrated approach.
The future EU biodiversity strategy to achieve the EU 2020 biodiversity target represents a unique opportunity to organise ourselves to meet the global agreed goals and objectives. Concrete, feasible and cost-effective measures need to be put in place progressively and with determination by both the EU and its member states, engaging the relevant actors and sectors in the implementation of the decisions adopted in Nagoya.
In this context, further integrating and mainstreaming of biodiversity into development and implementation of all relevant policies needs to be significantly strengthened, particularly considering the benefits that biodiversity and ecosystem services provides for a large number of sectors. As such, there is also a need to account for the economic values of biodiversity and to include these values into political and economic decisions.
The ongoing EU policy reforms in the context of the coming multiannual financial framework represents an invaluable opportunity to carry out this exercise and to enhance coherence between the objectives of the different policies under reform and the biodiversity policy.
Biodiversity conservation represents an opportunity to advance towards sustainable development. The growth dynamic that has yielded improvements in living standards has not been without costs to physical environment on which human wellbeing ultimately depends. In the current context of a global environmental and socioeconomic crisis, there is an urgent need to guide economic activities into modes of production and consumption with lower environmental impacts. The need to implement policies aimed at properly valuing natural assets should be core elements of green growth strategies.
Given the benefits that biodiversity and ecosystems bring to human wellbeing, and taking into account the main conclusions of the TEEB Study that highlight that the cost of sustaining biodiversity and ecosystem services is lower than the cost of allowing biodiversity and ecosystem services to dwindle, the protection of biological diversity is clearly a key element of the green economy. A sustainable, efficient and green economy is based on more equitable goods and services, promoting the reduction of unsustainable consumption and harmful incentives for the environment. Ensuring that biodiversity is used sustainably will reduce our ecological footprint.
The findings of the TEEB Study illustrate that up to 2.6 per cent of those working in Europe have jobs mostly based on natural assets and that up to 16.6 per cent of European jobs are indirectly linked to those natural assets. TEEB also estimates that global business opportunities from investments in biodiversity could be worth US$2-6 trillion by 2050. Biodiversity therefore can also contribute to the creation of jobs and business opportunities and thus to generating long-term economic benefits.
All in all, fully valuing the role of biodiversity and ecosystems will contribute to EU strategic objectives. Efforts need to be invested and enhanced on the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity across sectors and political decisions. This will certainly provide better economic sustainable growth and secure stability in human wellbeing. Conserving our natural capital is a common responsibility.
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