Environment

'We failed' on species extinction, admits EU

15.03.10 @ 17:33

  1. By Leigh Phillips

BRUSSELS - European Union environment ministers officially gave up on a decade-old target to stop the depletion of the continent's animal and plant species on Monday.

  • EU ministers have given themselves a new biodiversity deadline (Photo: lant_70)

"We have missed our 2010 biodiversity target, obviously," European environment commissioner Janez Potocnik told reporters in Brussels following his first attendance at an EU environment council. "We must not repeat that mistake."

"This is year we want to establish [new] baseline targets and develop a convincing strategy on how to ensure we won't fail again," he added.

At a meeting of EU premiers and presidents in Gothenburg in 2001, the EU pledged to put an end to biodiversity loss by the end of 2010 - the International Year of Biodiversity.

According to the commission, this was the result of an incomplete implementation of nature protection laws and insufficient integration of extinction considerations into other policies, despite the existence of an EU biodiversity action plan.

The ministers were "seriously concerned that both the EU and the global biodiversity 2010 targets have not been met, that biodiversity loss continues at an unacceptable rate entailing very serious ecological, economic and social consequences."

In response, EU ministers have extended their own deadline by ten years, setting a new, mid-term headline target that all species loss within the EU will be ended by 2020 and a long-term target that by 2050, ecosystems will be appropriately protected and restored to prevent such losses in the future.

The ministers requested the European Commission to submit a detailed plan for a post-2010 biodiversity strategy.

Commissioner Potocnik said that the failure showed the need for an international body tackling biodiversity issues - "Something like the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change," adding that EU ministers "certainly stand behind" such a proposal.

According to experts, more than a third of species are facing extinction and an estimated 60 percent of the earth's ecosystems have been degraded in the last 50 years.

At the global level, discussions on the review of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)

are already under way ahead of an international summit on the topic in Najoya, Japan from in October.

"Protecting biodiversity is not just something in terms of intrinsic value, but also useful for human life. Ecosystems make a contribution to human welfare and economic prosperity," said Spanish environment minister Elena Espinosa.

Green groups, long aware of that the 2010 pledge was never going to be met, welcomed the new target date, noting that the ministers had gone for the most stringent of four policy framework options suggested by the commission last January.

According to BirdLife International, said it is "good to see that the Council voted for the strongest option on offer."

However, others warned of repeating the same mistakes.

"A similar decision was made in 2001 and nine years later the target was not achieved," warned WWF, which called on the biodiversity target adopted by ministers to be endorsed by EU premiers and presidents at the end of this month and for biodiversity to be integrated in the bloc's ten-year growth strategy, currently under discussion.

"It's all lip service unless biodiversity is fully reflected in key cross-cutting EU policies and strategies," the group said.

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