Europe Resolves to Reverse Biodiversity Declines by 2010

MADRID, Spain, January 22, 2004 (ENS) - European countries have agreed to work together to protect hundreds of species from extinction and strengthened their resolve to halt the decline in biodiversity by the year 2010. At the Biodiversity in Europe conference which wound up Wednesday here, participants agreed to send a strong message to the next global biodiversity convention set for Malaysia in February.

The Biodiversity in Europe Conference and the simultaneous Council of the Pan-European Biological and Landscape Diversity Strategy (PEBLDS) meeting that opened Sunday brought together ministers and senior officials of all European governments, international organizations, and nongovernmental organizations.

Delegates from 31 European countries focused on safeguarding biological diversity in marine and coastal regions, mountainous regions, protected areas and ecological networks of Europe, transfer of technology and technology cooperation.

Halting the loss of biodiversity at all levels in Europe by 2010 was at the core of the the strategy sessions, as participants discussed how to turn the 2010 target into reality and what tools might be used to harmonize this process.

The 2010 target date was set in May 2003 in the Resolution on Biodiversity signed by all European environment ministers in Kiev, Ukraine, and in the European Union Strategy for Sustainable Development.

"To reach the 2010 targets, we must do more!" said Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstrom at the conference opening session. "It is time to ring the alarm bell. Biodiversity loss has accelerated to an unprecedented level, both in Europe and worldwide," she told delegates.


European brown bear (Photo by A. Zedrosser courtesy WWF)
Environmental organizations have been ringing the alarm bell for years. In July 1999, WWF issued a report warning that bear populations in Western Europe are on the brink of disappearing. "Unless radical steps are taken in the near future," WWF said, "France's tiny brown bear populations are doomed to extinction, while the small and fragile populations of Spain and Greece are decreasing alarmingly." Little action has been taken to protect bears since then.

In his address, IUCN Director General Achim Steiner emphasised the global impact of the decisions taken within Europe. The European will to protect its species and their habitats is expected to energize the 7th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, next month.

The IUCN Regional Office for Europe presented its Countdown to 2010 initiative - a series of annual meetings on the most urgent challenges for biodiversity. They are timed to influence policy makers during coming policy reforms on EU level.

In September 2004, a Countdown to 2010 launch meeting will focus on "Building the Pan-European Ecological Network," the European Region IUCN announced.

Representing the Irish EU Presidency and the 10 countries that will join the union on May 1, Irish environment official Tom O’Mahony described the Countdown to 2010 initiative as “worthy of our support.”

PEBLDS' President Sylvi Ofstad said in her closing speech Wednesday, "Recent research results make clear that climate change will accelerate the current decline of nature and biodiversity worldwide. If we do not act now the face of Europe and the whole planet could dramatically change, affecting life and economies on Earth."

“Europe is determined to counterbalance dramatic effects of climate change on biodiversity," she said.

However, Ofstad expressed trust that "the outcomes of our Pan-European meetings will boost an engagement and create a will to fight this alarming scenario. We are more determined then ever to halt the decline of nature and biodiversity by 2010."

As if to underline the urgency of efforts at the conference, a global partnership of bird conservation organizations warned Monday that numbers of 24 wild birds once common on farmlands across Europe have crashed by more than 30 percent since 1980.

BirdLife International used the occasion of Berlin's Agriculture Green Week to release a new study on the population trends of wild birds that shows intensive farming is responsible for the steep decline of skylarks and lapwings, among many others.


Lapwings Vanellus vanellus are declining in Europe, mainly as a result of intensive agriculture. (Photo by Andy Hay/RSPB courtesy BirdLife)
BirdLife estimates that 150 species of European birds are reliant on sustainable farming for their future survival. Previous research has shown that the declines of farmland birds have been greatest in those EU countries with the most intensive farming systems - the countries in northwest Europe.

In the UK between 1970 and 1999, for instance, skylark numbers declined by 52 percent and corn bunting numbers were down by 88 percent.

Birds at most immediate risk are those particularly vulnerable to intensive agriculture, such as the corncrake, red-backed shrike and great bustard – birds which have been lost as regular breeding birds from much of northwest Europe and which will be threatened as agricultural development spreads.

Currently, eastern European countries still have relatively large populations of these birds, and BirdLife is urging the governments of the 10 countries joining the European Union on May 1 - most in eastern Europe - to heed the warning to take the environment into account.

With just over 100 days to go until the 10 new countries become EU members, BirdLife is calling on the European Commission, the 15 current EU member states, and the accession countries to urgently put the environment and wildlife at the heart of farming policy.

Otherwise, the organization warned, there will be further massive declines or even extinctions in the new member states, which are still relatively untouched by the ravages of intensive farming.