Today, the European Environment Agency released its State of the Environment Report 2015, delivering a stark message of biodiversity loss, natural capital depletion and environmental pressures. The report emphasizes the recognition that Europe's economic prosperity and well-being are intrinsically linked to its natural environment.
According to the report, Europe’s natural capital is not being sufficiently protected, with loss of soil functions, land degradation and climate change threatening the flows of environmental goods and services that underpin Europe's economic output and well-being. Moreover, Europe continues to lose its biodiversity and habitats, and is not on track to meeting the targets of its 2020 Biodiversity Strategy. Climate change impacts are expected to intensify the threats to biodiversity and accelerate the loss of natural capital.
“The worrying findings of this report do not come as a surprise. Loss of biodiversity, land degradation and climate change are increasingly threatening the very foundations of our society, economy and well-being,” said Luc Bas, Director, IUCN EU Representative Office. “We should no longer consider protecting and restoring our natural capital as a cost and an obstacle to economic development, but as an urgent investment for our future prosperity.”
The findings of the IUCN European Red List of Threatened Species, which has assessed species in Europe since 2006, corroborate the messages of the State of the Environment Report 2015 report. The assessments have shown that biodiversity loss continues at an alarming rate in Europe, with 25% of species threatened with extinction. The main drivers for this are habitat loss, urban expansion, agricultural intensification and climate change. Species are also at risk in the EU's 34 overseas regions and territories not mentioned in the report. Hosting 70% of European biodiversity, these regions are crucial for meeting the 2020 biodiversity targets.
The report also draws attention to the need for Europe to address systemic environmental challenges by transitioning to a genuine green economy. It shows that existing policies – especially on environment and climate change - , if properly implemented and recalibrated, can make a substantial contribution to achieving such systemic change. The report identifies four policy approaches that, combined, have the potential to make this shift: advancing resource-efficient technological innovations; adapting to climate change impacts; applying the precautionary principle based on scientific findings; and enhancing natural resources to improve resilience of ecosystems and contribute to economic development.
On the positive side, the report points to the successes of the EU’s strong environmental legislation, while emphasising that challenges remain. The Birds and Habitats Directives in particular have been effective in protecting some endangered species (such as beavers, wolves, cranes and white tailed eagles) and succeeded in creating and expanding Europe’s unique Natura 2000 network of protected areas, which now protects 18% of land and 4% of marine waters. In addition, there have been considerable improvements in Europe’s air and water quality over recent decades.
“We do not need to reinvent the wheel – we know what action is needed, and we have the instruments at our fingertips,” concluded Luc Bas. “In order to preserve and enhance Europe’s ecosystem services and secure our long-term prosperity, we need to fully and effectively implement existing legislation, and beyond that also ensure full recognition of the value of natural capital across all different sectoral policies.”