Countdown 2010 Aims to Halt Loss of European Biodiversity

MALAHIDE, Ireland, May 27, 2004 (ENS) - Across the European continent, 42 percent of mammals are classified as endangered by the IUCN-World Conservation Union, and so are 15 percent of birds, 45 percent of reptiles, 30 percent of amphibians, 45 percent of butterflies and 52 percent of freshwater fish.

Alarmed at this loss in biodiversity, the IUCN and its more than 350 European member organizations have joined with the European Commission and the Irish Presidency of the European Union in a campaign to stop the loss of Europe's diverse creatures and ecosystems by the year 2010.


The Mediterranean subpopulation of short-beaked common dolphins Delphinus delphis has declined by more than 50 percent over the last 45 years and is assessed as endangered. (Photo © Giovanni Bearzi/IUCN)
“We have six years to make a difference,” said IUCN President Yolanda Kakabadse, launching the new campaign - Countdown 2010 - in Malahide on Tuesday.

The launch was hosted by the Irish Presidency of the European Union, jointly with the European Commission, during a three day conference on the theme Biodiversity and the EU: Sustaining Life, Sustaining Livelihoods.

Some 250 delegates from all 25 EU member states assembled at the Grand Hotel heard Irish Environment Minister Martin Cullen warn, "The reduction and loss of biodiversity in Europe and worldwide has accelerated dramatically and has affected species, habitats and ecosystems both on land and at sea."

"To put biodiversity in a context, it sustains livelihoods. Any threat to livelihoods should be taken seriously and the loss of biodiversity is a threat," Cullen said. "People, including some of us at home, cannot lecture the rest of the world on the destruction of rainforests while failing to protect our own biodiversity."

Cullen said Ireland is seeking to address the decline in biodiversity through the National Biodiversity Plan, and said his department has met with some success in its efforts to reintroduce the golden eagle in the northwest of Ireland.


Irish Environment Minister Martin Cullen (Photo courtesy Irish Presidency)
The minister announced plans to put in place a national biological data management system, to be coordinated by a National Biological Recording Centre. Cullen is now investigating a location and funding for the center.

That is the type of action Kakabadse says is needed to implement the Countdown 2010 campaign, which aims to catalyze action to help fulfill the commitments already made by European Heads of State to halt the loss of biological diversity.

In 2001 in Goteborg, Sweden, under the Swedish Presidency of the European Union, the Heads of State signed a commitment to halt the loss of biodiversity by 2010.

In 2002 these leaders went to the Sixth Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity in The Netherlands and later the World Summit on Sustainable Development in South Africa and made the commitment on the global scale to bring about a significant reduction in the current rate of loss of biodiversity.

In 2003, the environment ministers of the whole of Europe agreed, as had been done within the EU in 2001, to halt the loss of biodiversity by 2010.

European Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstrom welcomed the Countdown 2010 initiative. "This effort to inform the European citizens about our political commitments, to maintain public pressure for delivery, and to help pull together actors from all sectors of society is much needed," she told the conference participants.

In her address, the IUCN's Kakabadse, a former Environment Minister of Ecuador, stressed the importance of the Countdown 2010 initiative to reduce Europe’s environmental impact on the rest of the world, especially in areas relating to trade and agricultural subsidies.

She described the campaign in terms of six steps the European Union can take to stop the loss of plants, animals and whole ecosystems.

First, encourage the private sector to contribute more actively to conserving biodiversity, as many parts of the private sector have a significant ecological footprint and associated impacts on biodiversity.


Sixty percent of the brown bears remaining in Europe live in Romania. (Photo courtesy UNEP)
Second, fully integrate environmental issues, especially biodiversity, into the EU's development cooperation with other nations, making the environment a key component of external policies.

Third, provide more support to research on biodiversity, and establish an "authoritative baseline against which to assess progress toward the 2010 target."

Kakabadse called for better scientific capacity to map the distribution of species and ecosystems, and enhanced cooperation between the developed and developing world.

Fourth, work "much more intensely" to implement the multilateral environmental agreements, particularly the Convention on Biological Diversity.

Fifth, integrate biodiversity into other sectors. Demonstrate the fundamental link between biodiversity and poverty alleviation, climate change, water management, human health and sustainable development in its broadest sense.

Finally, she said, mobilize civil society in the process of achieving the 2010 goal. Existing examples, such as the Marine Stewardship Council and the Forest Stewardship Council, are both indications that consumer concern can make a difference, in addition to government action.

Biodiversity is the term given to the variety of life on earth and the natural patterns it forms, said Cullen. "The biodiversity we see today is the fruit of billions of years of evolution, shaped by natural processes and, increasingly, by humans. Biodiversity forms the web of life of which we are an integral part, and upon which we so fully depend."

Through its Species Survival Commission the IUCN has for 40 years been assessing the conservation status of species. To highlight species threatened with extinction and promote their conservation, the IUCN publishes the Red List of Threatened Species and maintains a searchable database of these species.