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Biodiversity Facts

Status and trends of biodiversity, including benefits from biodiversity and ecosystem services

The main ecosystems in Europe1 are croplands (33%), forests (30%), pastures (16%) and urban land (2%). Centuries of diverse farming and forestry traditions, resulting in a wide range of agricultural and woodland landscapes, have significantly contributed to Europe’s biodiversity. Europe is also home to a considerable diversity of species: there are 260 species of mammals, of which 40 are marine mammals, 500 species of fish, 500 of breeding birds, 150 of reptiles, 84 of amphibians and 90,000 species of insects, including 10,000 of butterflies and moths as well as 30,000 of beetles. Not included in this description are the EU's Outermost Regions and Overseas Countries and Territories. Situated in five biodiversity hotspots, including over 20% of the world's coral reefs and lagoons, they host more than twice the number of species present in continental Europe.

However, Europe's biological richness is currently highly threatened by human activities. The EU 2010 Biodiversity Baseline, published by the European Environment Agency, indicates that 50% of species and 65% of habitat types of European conservation interest have an unfavourable conservation status. Areas of extensive agriculture, grasslands and wetlands continue to decline across Europe while artificial surfaces continue to expand. The biggest changes in ecosystems between 1990 and 2006 include a general increase in artificial areas – 4.4% growth in water bodies (artificial reservoirs), 8% growth in artificial surfaces (urban, industrial, infrastructures) and 12% growth in transitional land (woodland degradation, forest regeneration and recolonisation) – at the expense of natural areas – 5% decline in wetland areas (marshes and bogs), a 2.6 % decline in extensive agriculture land, a 2.4 % decline in natural grassland area.

Similarly alarming trends have been reported for species. In Europe, nearly one in six (15%) of the terrestrial mammals and 25% of marine mammals are threatened with the risk of extinction. From 1990 to 2006, populations of European common birds declined by 10% and farmland birds by 25%, while the conservation status of over 40% of European bird species remains unfavorable, and the risk of extinction for birds has increased almost everywhere in Europe. Since 1990, grassland butterflies have declined by 60% and show no sign of recovery. Likewise, about 45% of assessed European fish stocks are outside safe biological limits.

The EU’s economies and societies’ long-term well-being are underpinned by its natural capital, its genetic resources, species and ecosystems that provide essential goods and services, such as fertile soils, multi-functional forests and productive seas, fresh water and air, and ecosystem-based climate mitigation and adaptation. Unfortunately, many of Europe’s ecosystems are now so heavily degraded that their ability to deliver these valuable services is drastically reduced. One issue alone, that of insect pollination, which is being heavily degraded in Europe, has an estimated economic value of €15 billion per year in the EU. An important problem is that, unlike in the case of economic and human capital, the value of natural capital to our economies and societies and the interdependencies of nature with other societal objectives are often not reflected in private and public decisions, indicators and accounting systems and economic signals in our market economies.

Main pressures on and drivers of change to biodiversity (direct and indirect)

Among the main pressures and drivers causing biodiversity loss are habitat fragmentation, degradation and destruction due to land-use change. Natural grasslands are still being turned into arable land and built-up areas, and extensive agricultural land is being converted into forms of more intensive agriculture and parts into forest. Intensive agricultural production systems and land abandonment are a major concern, as 70% of species are threatened by the loss of their habitat. Fragmentation due to urban sprawl and infrastructure development — nearly 30% of EU land show signs of moderately high to very high fragmentation — severely affects ecosystem connectivity and their health and ability to provide services. Further, 30% of species are threatened by overexploitation of forests, oceans, rivers, lakes and soils — for instance: 88% of stocks are being fished beyond maximum sustainable yields, which means that stocks may not be replenished. Also, 26% of species are threatened by pollution in the form of pesticides, and fertilisers like nitrates and phosphates. In particular, half of the geographical range of natural and semi-natural habitats across the European Union was exposed to atmospheric nitrogen deposits above the critical load in 2004. Increasing threats to biodiversity are invasive alien species — about 12,000 alien species have been found in the environment, 10-15% of them becoming invasive, and their number is steadily rising, in particular in marine and estuarine systems, threatening 22% of species — and climate change, with already recorded negative impacts on, for example, a majority of bird species.

Measures to Enhance Implementation of the Convention

Implementation of the NBSAP

In May 2011, the European Union adopted a new strategy 'Our life insurance, our natural capital: an EU biodiversity strategy to 2020' (COM 2011/244 final). The Strategy lays down the framework for EU action over this decade in order to meet the commitments made by EU leaders in March 2010, in particular the 2020 headline target: “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”; and the 2050 vision: “By 2050, European Union biodiversity and the ecosystem services it provides – its natural capital – are protected, valued and appropriately restored for biodiversity's intrinsic value and for their essential contribution to human wellbeing and economic prosperity, and so that catastrophic changes caused by the loss of biodiversity are avoided”.

The EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2020 follows up on the 2006 EU Biodiversity Action Plan and is the European Union’s equivalent to a National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (NBSAP) – and among the first ones to be fully aligned with the global Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020. Apart from this EU Biodiversity Strategy, nearly all EU Member States have revised their own NBSAPs. As presented in their respective country profiles, EU Member States' NBSAPs further add to the implementation of the CBD and related multilateral agreements in individual countries through a wide range of national and sub-national policies and measures.

Actions taken to achieve the 2020 Aichi Biodiversity Targets

The EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2020 is built around six mutually supportive targets which address the main drivers of biodiversity loss and aim to reduce the key pressures on nature and ecosystem services in the EU. Each target is further translated into a set of time-bound actions and other accompanying measures. The Strategy’s targets and actions fully cover the EU’s commitment to the 2020 Aichi Biodiversity Targets (see correspondence table).

TARGET 1: To fully implement the Birds and Habitats Directives (the EU nature legislation): Over the last 25 years, on the legal basis of the Birds and Habitats Directives, the EU has built up a vast network of 26,000 protected areas throughout its Member States. Known as Natura 2000, the network covers an area of more than 750,000 km2, which is 18% of the EU’s land area, as well as an increased share of EU marine areas. Thanks to the EU nature legislation and Natura 2000, the area protected for nature conservation has more than tripled in the EU. The implementation of EU and national nature legislation and conservation efforts, often supported by EU funding instruments, such as the LIFE Fund, have already led to an impressive recovery of many species and habitats which were on the brink of extinction and halted the large-scale destruction of valuable wildlife-rich habitats. Cooperation between the different public and private actors has greatly increased at local, national and EU levels and the soon-to-be 28 EU Member States are coordinating their efforts to conserve Europe's natural heritage. However, despite these measures and successes, only 17% of habitats and species under protection are in favourable condition. Target 1 aims at a significant and measurable improvement in the status of all species and habitats covered by EU nature legislation so that, by 2020, compared to current assessments: (i) 100% more habitat assessments and 50% more species assessments under the Habitats Directive show an improved conservation status; and (ii) 50% more species assessments under the Birds Directive show a secure or improved status. This is to be achieved by the completion of the Natura 2000 Network, by ensuring good management and adequate financing of Natura 2000 sites, through increased stakeholder awareness and involvement and improved enforcement, monitoring and reporting.

TARGET 2: To maintain and enhance ecosystems and their services: Target 2 addresses the fragmentation and degradation of ecosystems and their services within and beyond protected areas with the aim that, by 2020, ecosystems and their services are maintained and enhanced by establishing green infrastructure and restoring at least 15% of degraded ecosystems. A strategic framework will be developed by Member States, assisted by the Commission, to set priorities for ecosystem restoration at EU, national and subnational levels by 2014. Furthermore, a Green Infrastructure Strategy is being developed to promote the deployment of green infrastructure in the EU in urban and rural areas. Action under this target will also seek to achieve "no net loss" of biodiversity and ecosystem services through, for example, compensation or offsetting schemes and by "biodiversity-proofing" EU-funded projects, plans and programmes.

TARGET 3: To increase the contribution of agriculture and forestry to maintaining and enhancing biodiversity: Biodiversity concerns have been part of European agricultural policy for some time already, notably through the EU Common Agriculture Policy (CAP). However, despite some improvements in, for example, the reduction of nitrogen pollution, many farms have intensified activities and become highly mechanised, whilst those that do not have the capacity to do so have become increasingly marginalised sometimes forcing farmers to abandon their land, with equally devastating consequences for biodiversity. Hence, by 2020, this Target aims at having maximised the share of agricultural and forested areas which is covered by biodiversity-related measures, to bring about a measurable improvement in the provision of ecosystem services and in the conservation status of species and habitats that depend on or are affected by agriculture and forestry. This is to be achieved, inter alia, by enhancing direct payments for environmental public goods in the CAP, better targeting of rural-development measures to biodiversity conservation, and encouraging the adoption of forest management plans that include biodiversity-specific measures.

TARGET 4: To ensure the sustainable use of fisheries resources: Despite important progress made in regard to the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) since 2002 (long-term management plans) and adoption of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) in 2008, nearly half of Europe’s commercial fish stocks remain over-exploited. The EU Biodiversity Strategy aims to restore and maintain stocks to levels that can produce maximum sustainable yield (MSY) by 2015, and to achieve good environmental status of Europe’s seas by 2020, as required by the MSFD. This is to be achieved by improving the management of fish stocks, in particular through long-term management plans, and by significantly reducing adverse impacts of fishing on non-targeted species and marine ecosystems (avoiding by-catch and eliminating discards). The new CFP will play a crucial role in this regard.

TARGET 5: To control invasive alien species (IAS): Invasive alien species have become one of the fastest growing threats to biodiversity in Europe, threatening 22% of European species and causing at least €12 billion damage/year in the EU. By 2020, this Target aims to have IAS and their pathways identified and prioritised, priority species controlled or eradicated, and pathways managed to prevent the introduction and establishment of new IAS. To achieve this, the EU is preparing a dedicated legislative instrument to address common challenges associated with IAS in the EU. The EU will also further integrate additional biodiversity concerns into its plant and animal health regimes and other relevant legislation.

TARGET 6: To help avert global biodiversity loss: The EU is fully committed to helping combat biodiversity loss across the globe and to fulfilling its global commitments under the Convention. This Target is about further stepping up the EU's contribution to averting global biodiversity loss by 2020. Actions to achieve this include the implementation of the Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit Sharing by 2015 and the contribution of a fair share to international efforts to significantly increase resources for global biodiversity. The EU is already the largest contributor to biodiversity finance with an average annual EU external assistance for biodiversity of about €1.7 billion during the last decade. At COP-11, the EU further committed to double its contribution, based on an average from 2006 to 2010, by 2015 and maintain it until 2020. Further, as the world’s biggest trader, Europe must also address the impact that its consumption patterns are having on the rest of the planet. Actions aim to reduce the EU’s biodiversity footprint on the rest of the world by enhancing the contribution of EU trade policy to conserving biodiversity, whilst eliminating as far as possible any negative biodiversity impacts of EU trade agreements; and assist developing countries in their efforts to conserve biodiversity and ensure its sustainable use. This is to be achieved, inter alia, by providing the right market signals for biodiversity conservation, including work to reform, phase out and eliminate harmful subsidies at both EU and Member State levels, and ‘biodiversity-proofing’ EU development cooperation. In addition, the EU's BEST Initiative aims to promote conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity and ecosystem services in EU Outermost Regions and Overseas Countries and Territories.

As part of the mid-term review of the Strategy in early 2015, further actions may be recommended, in justified cases, contributing to enhance the effectiveness of the second stage of the Strategy's implementation, and in order to ensure that the headline target of the Strategy is achieved by 2020.

Support mechanisms for national implementation (legislation, funding, capacity-building, coordination, mainstreaming, etc.)

The EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2020 underlines the need for close coordination between authorities at all levels – EU, national, sub-national – which are responsible for ensuring implementation of the Strategy, as well as the importance of stakeholders' involvement in implementation (including business and society at large). To this end, the Strategy is accompanied by a common implementation framework (CIF), which also serves the purposes of monitoring, assessing and reporting on progress in implementing the Strategy. The CIF involves the European Commission and Member States in partnership with key stakeholders and civil society. Specifically, its purpose is to (i) facilitate implementation of the EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2020 by putting in place a clear and logical EU level governance framework that is as efficient and effective as possible; (ii) create ownership for the implementation of the Biodiversity Strategy across all relevant policy areas by involving representatives from a wide range of services, ministries and institutions in implementation of the Strategy; (iii) ensure the involvement of all relevant stakeholders at the appropriate level of policy making, beyond the traditional "biodiversity community"; and (iv) to minimise duplication of work and maximise synergies between efforts undertaken at different levels and by different actors and stakeholders; share information and best practice and address common challenges.

Mechanisms for monitoring and reviewing implementation

The EU 2020 Biodiversity Strategy and related targets are underpinned by the EU 2010 Biodiversity Baseline which provides facts and figures on the state and trends of the different biodiversity and ecosystem components, and thereby factual information for measuring and monitoring progress in the EU from 2011 to 2020. To further ensure that the EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2020 is implemented based on comprehensive and robust information, EU Member States, with the assistance of the European Commission, are committed to the Mapping and Assessment of Ecosystems and their Services (MAES) in their national territory by 2014, assessing the economic value of such services, and promoting the integration of these values into accounting and reporting systems at EU and national levels by 2020.

A coherent framework for monitoring, assessing and reporting on progress in implementing the EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2020 is currently being developed. This framework will eventually link existing biodiversity data and knowledge systems with the Strategy and streamline EU and global monitoring, reporting and review obligations under environmental and other relevant legislation, while trying to avoid any duplication or increase of administrative burden.

Also, EU biodiversity indicators, in the context of an exercise in Streamlining European Biodiversity Indicators (SEBI), are currently being updated, upgraded and further developed to be used at EU level, in correspondence with the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, providing for a flexible framework. The EU is planning to make its indicator-based assessment available for inclusion in the preparation and consultation process for the Fifth National Report to the CBD, due by March 2014. EU indicators will also be made available as advance information/case-studies for inclusion in the fourth Global Biodiversity Outlook (GBO4), prior to COP-12, as requested by decision UNEP/CBD/COP/XI/3.

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  • United Nations
  • United Nations Environment Programme