The official launch of the IUCN EU Overseas Entities Programme on Biodiversity and Climate Change took place at the Regional Office for Europe in Brussels on the 31st May 2010. The Programme aims to implement some of the 21 recommendations endorsed at the 2008 IUCN La Reunion conference.
Mr Maurice Ponga, MEP, France, New Caledonia and the Pacific and member of the Conference of European Parliamentarians of Outermost Regions opened the launch and stressed the need to increase awareness of the special risks these areas face along with the link between climate change and human well being. Mr Ponga also stated that “as a Member of the European Parliament and advocate for overseas I would like to concentrate my efforts and political commitment to the promotion of synergies between ORs and OCTs so that efforts to protect and enhance the biodiversity of these territories are taken globally”.
Ms Myriam Aflalo, Head of Department, European Policies, Regional Integration and Promotion of Overseas, Minister of Overseas, France highlighted that overseas entities are one of the key focus’ of France’s investment under the IUCN-France Framework Agreement. France is delighted to invest in the follow up to the La Reunion conference through helping to establish this new programme.
Overseas Entities are internationally recognized for their high biodiversity and the ecosystem services they provide not only support local populations but also enrich the EU with a unique natural heritage as well as economic and strategic opportunities. They host an outstanding diversity of marine and island ecosystems and species with high degree of endemicity.
Overseas entities are however highly vulnerable, economically, socially and environmentally, in particular to the predicted impacts of climate change. Such challenges demand strong leadership and commitment to action at all levels, within the EU but also in regional and international fora.
Ms Vaia Tuuhia, President Overseas Countries and Territories Association, also highlighted the issue that “there is a consensus about entities’ vulnerability to climate change, their rich biodiversity and the need to act. The OCTA strategic plan for 2010 proposes actions which incoporate the environment as a pillar of cooperation. Partnerships will allow us to develop projects in line with the EU programmes. Projects for biodiversity and climate change need to be enhanced by a bottom up approach, which will create the link between expertise, networks and European criteria.
The 28 European Union Overseas Entities cover a land area of 4.4 million km2, equivalent to continental Europe, and a combined Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of over 15 million km2, the largest EEZ globally. They range from small islands to large stretches of land and are located across all major regions of the globe from tropical to polar latitudes.
For example, New Caledonia alone has 2,423 endemic species (compared to 353 in France); the Canary islands, that represent 1.5% of the surface of Spain, hosts 50% of all the endemic plant species, and French Guiana, which only accounts for 7% of global land area, is home to more than half of the animal and plant species in the world and contains about half of France’s biodiversity (29% of plants, 55% of vertebrates and 92% of insects).
Mr Ladislav Miko, Director for Nature, DG Environment, European Commission stated that the EC was “happy that IUCN was launching this programme and I hope we will all work together to progress the programme”.
The launch was an opportunity for some of the key players in overseas entities to come together to celebrate the Programme and to state their support for its key objectives. Speakers included: Mr Maurice Ponga, MEP, Member of the Conference of European Parliamentarians of Outermost Regions; Mr Ladislav Miko, Director for Nature, DG Environment, European Commission; Dr Russell Mittermeier, IUCN Vice President and President Conservation International; Ms Myriam Aflalo, Head of Department, European Policies, Regional Integration and Promotion of Overseas, Minister of Overseas, France; Dr Grethel Aguilar Rojas, IUCN Regional Director Meso America; Vaia Tuuhia, President Overseas Countries and Territories Association; and Dr Hans Friederich, Regional Director for Pan-Europe.