Europe

EU biodiversity policy

Portuguese blenny (Parablennius ruber) Photo: Robert A. Patzner
Biological diversity, or biodiversity, is the variety of life on earth. It describes the variability among living organisms from all sources including terrestrial, marine and freshwater ecosystems, and the ecological complexes of which they are part. This also includes diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems.

Not only does biodiversity make the natural environment beautiful for humans to enjoy, but we also depend on it for providing the food, air, water, energy and raw materials that make life possible and that drive our economy.

Biodiversity in Europe

Europe has a rich diversity of wild plants and animals, many of which are unique to this continent and exist nowhere else in the world. This richness is augmented by biodiversity hotspots in the EU’s overseas territories. However, biodiversity loss in the EU continues. More than 22% of European species are now threatened with extinction, according to the IUCN European Red List.  Freshwater species are particularly affected, with 59% of freshwater molluscs, 40% of freshwater fishes and 23% of amphibians being threatened with extinction.

EU 2020 Biodiversity Strategy

The EU is committed to the protection of biodiversity. In 2011, the European Commission adopted the EU Biodiversity Strategy, which aims to halt the loss of biodiversity and the degradation of ecosystem services in the EU by 2020. Biodiversity and ecosystems also have to be restored in so far as feasible, while stepping up the EU contribution to avert global biodiversity loss.

Results of the 2015 Mid-term Review of the EU Biodiversity Strategy show progress in many areas, but highlight the need for much greater effort to deliver commitments on implementation by Member States. While many local successes demonstrate that action on the ground delivers positive outcomes, these examples need to be scaled up to have a measurable impact on the overall negative trends.

This Strategy is  in line with the global commitments made in Nagoya in October 2010, in the context of the Convention on Biological Diversity, where world leaders adopted a package of measures to address global biodiversity loss over the coming decade.

EU nature legislation

The EU Birds and Habitats Directives, adopted in 1979 and 1992 respectively, are the cornerstones of the EU’s nature legislation. Together, they require Member States to ensure both the physical protection of individual specimens across the 28 EU countries as well as the conservation of core breeding and resting sites for certain particularly rare and threatened species under the Natura 2000 network of protected areas.

Fitness Check of EU nature legislation

As part of its Smart Regulation policy the European Commission initiated a Regulatory Fitness and Performance Programme (REFIT), under which a ‘fitness check’ of the EU’s nature legislation was carried out, to determine if the Birds and Habitats Directives,  are “fit for purpose”. The draft emerging findings were published in November 2015, and after a prolonged delay, the final report from the European Commission was releasedon 16 December 2016. The 'Fitness Check' evaluation of the EU Birds and Habitats Directives concluded that they remain relevant and fit for purpose but that substantial improvement in their implementation are needed to deliver practical results on the ground for both nature and people within the EU.

Action Plan for the implementation of EU nature legislation

In response to the 'Fitness Check' conclusion, the European Commission is preparing a Nature Action Plan to enhance the implementation of the EU nature legislation. This Action Plan has been consulted with EU Members States and stakeholders, and is expected to be adopted at the end of April 2017.

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