EU biodiversity offers chance to shape prosperous economic future

Preserving biodiversity costs Europe very little yet yields considerable economic benefits, writes Luc Bas.

By Luc Bas

01 Jun 2015

It is great to see that this year's green week will focus on what is at the heart of the international union for conservation of nature (IUCN)'s mission: conserving and protecting nature and biodiversity. 

I would argue that this should also be at the core of all European policies, for the sake of our long-term prosperity and wellbeing. Few people recognise the close link between biodiversity, healthy ecosystems and Europe's prosperity. 

In our modern world, it is easy to forget that nature is our planet's life support system - essential to addressing some of our most pressing challenges.


Our natural capital - including biodiversity, fertile soil, productive land, seas and rivers - delivers valuable ecosystem services and provides us with clean air and water, food, materials, ingredients for medicine, protection against natural disasters, and mitigation against the effects of climate change.

Crop pollination, for example, is worth more than €14bn annually in Europe, while wetlands provide an estimated €6bn of ecosystem services each year - high financial returns when you consider there are little or no upfront costs.

Protecting these assets requires effective policies, based on robust knowledge on the status of biodiversity. For over 50 years now, we have compiled a red list of threatened species - the world's most comprehensive information source on the global conservation status of animal, fungi and plant species.

The red list is an invaluable health check for our planet - a barometer of life. To further inform policymaking at EU level, IUCN and the commission launched the European red list of threatened species in 2006. Since then, we have assessed over 9000 European species and will release the European red lists of birds and marine fish this week during a green week workshop. 

The European red list has become a powerful tool to measure progress towards achieving the targets set out in the EU biodiversity strategy, in which member states have agreed to halt the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services by 2020. 

Unfortunately, we are not on track to meet these targets. Instead, our biodiversity is declining and ecosystems continue to be degraded, with 25 per cent of European species currently threatened with extinction due to habitat loss, urban expansion, agricultural practices and climate change. 

The European environment agency in its recent reports on the 'the European environment - state and outlook 2015' and the 'state of nature in the EU' confirms this assessment. The rapid loss of Europe's natural capital should not only worry environmentalists, but also those concerned about the EU's prosperity at large.

Indeed, economists estimate that loss of biodiversity costs the EU around three per cent of GDP per year.

The EU has some of the world's highest environmental standards. The birds and habitats directives have been the cornerstone of our nature legislation for decades, and are a prime example of effective, flexible and popular EU legislation.

As a result, we have seen spectacular comebacks from many iconic species and the creation of the EU's unique Natura 2000 network of protected areas that also provide crucial ecosystem services. For these directives to fully reach their potential, we need more and stronger implementation at national and subnational levels.

This year's green week is an important opportunity to spread this message, reinforce existing partnerships and work with different actors to build new relationships. To truly protect nature and biodiversity, we need buy-in from all stakeholders - the return is a prosperous future for all Europeans.


Read the most recent articles written by Luc Bas - EU commission overhaul could 'weaken Europe's nature legislation'