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Facts and figures

Global rates of species extinction are unparalleled. Driven mainly by human activities, species are currently being lost 100 to 1,000 times faster than the natural rate.

(Our life insurance, our natural capital)

The Natura 2000 network covers more than 18 per cent of the EU’s land and 4 per cent of its seas.

Across the EU, 16 per cent of habitat-assessments are favourable, while more than three quarters are unfavourable.

Unless there is a significant improvement in trends it will not be possible to achieve the nature protection targets by 2020.

(The State of Nature in the European Union)


According to the internationally established definition, laid down by the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), biodiversity is the variability among living organisms from all sources and the ecological complexes of which they are part; it includes diversity within species, between species, and of ecosystems.1 Internationally, work on the preservation of biodiversity is carried out within the framework of several conventions, many of which are regional or address specific species. The CBD, with its global scope and general applicability to biodiversity, provides an overarching legal and policy framework.

That species become extinct is highly natural and part of a process that has been ongoing since the dawn of life on this planet. But the pace at which species are currently disappearing can only be compared to mass extinctions caused by global catastrophes such as major meteorite impacts. That species migrate into new areas

1 Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) (Rio de Janeiro, 5 June 1992) 1760 UNTS 79, Art 2. It has also been defined, eg, as ‘the variety of ecosystems, species and genes’. Communication from the Commission—Options for an EU vision and target for biodiversity beyond 2010 (19 January 2010) COM(2010) 4 final, 1.

EU Environmental Law and Policy. David Langlet and Said Mahmoudi. © David Langlet and Said Mahmoudi 2016. Published 2016 by Oxford University Press.

and colonise new habitats, sometimes changing them profoundly, is also a wholly natural process, driven, inter alia, by naturally occurring climate change. However, human activities, such as global commerce and pet trade, can bring the rate at which this happens to unprecedented levels.

In 2001 the European Council decided as an objective that biodiversity decline should be halted by 2010.2 The following year the parties to the CBD committed themselves to achieve, also by 2010, a significant reduction of the rate of biodiversity loss at the global, regional, and national levels. Neither of these targets were met.[1] [2] In 2010 the Council set ‘halting the loss of biodiversity and the degradation of ecosystem services in the EU by 2020, and restoring them in so far as feasible’ as a new headline biodiversity target.[3] [4] The following year this was supplemented by a biodiversity strategy to 2020.5

The overall negative trend for biodiversity has continued despite an increasing number of measures being agreed by the EU to protect biodiversity both within the Union and globally. Some impact of EU protection efforts can be seen but still the conservation status of only 16 per cent of habitats in the EU has been found to be favourable and more than three quarters unfavourable, with the situation for individual species only slightly better.[5] The 2020 target will not be met unless trends change rapidly and strongly for the better.

The centrepiece of EU policy in this area is the network of nature protection areas known as Natura 2000. The legal foundation for this network is provided by the two directives on, respectively, the conservation of wild birds (‘the Birds Directive’) and on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora (‘the Habitats Directive’). They also provide protection to many species outside such protection areas. While the brunt of this chapter is dedicated to these two directives, some attention is also dedicated to the regulation of international trade in endangered species and to the newly adopted directive on invasive species.

  • [1] Presidency Conclusions—Goteborg, 15 and 16 June 2001, European Council, SN 200/1/01REV 1, para 31.
  • [2] Report from the Commission—The 2010 Assessment of Implementing the EU BiodiversityAction Plan (8 October 2010) COM(2010) 548 final.
  • [3] Conclusions adopted by the Council (Environment) on 15 March 2010, 7536/10, Annex,para 2.
  • [4] Communication from the Commission—Our life insurance, our natural capital: an EU biodiversity strategy to 2020 (3 May 2011) COM(2011) 244 final. The strategy was endorsed by theCouncil in 2011. Conclusions adopted by the Council (Environment) on 21 June 2011, 11978/11, Annex. Target 1 of the strategy is to halt the deterioration in the status of all species and habitatscovered by EU nature legislation and achieve a significant and measurable improvement in theirstatus so that by 2020, compared to current assessments: (a) 100 per cent more habitat assessmentsand 50 per cent more species assessments under the Habitats Directive show an improved conservation status; and (b) 50 per cent more species assessments under the Birds Directive show a secure orimproved status.
  • [5] Communication from the Commission: The State of Nature in the European Union—Report onthe status of and trends for habitat types and species covered by the Birds and Habitats Directives forthe 2007—2012 period as required under Article 17 of the Habitats Directive and Article 12 of the Birds Directive (20 May 2015) COM/2015/0219 final, 7-8.
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