Timmermans: EU must make an effort to be leader in creating a sustainable economy

Nearly 15 percent of birds in the EU and 7.5 percent of all marine fish species in European waters are threatened with extinction, according to new Red List reports published today by the European Commission and introduced at Green Week 2015, Europe’s biggest conference dedicated to environment policy. The reports are part of a series that has tracked species populations for 50 years worldwide.

The three-day conference in Brussels is free and open to all. All sessions are web-streamed.

European Commission First Vice-President Frans Timmermans, responsible for sustainable development, gave the keynote speech on the opening day. “We need to maintain Europe’s biodiversity – it underpins both our quality of life and our economy, ‘our health and our wealth.’ It is under threat and we need to make sure it’s properly protected. Green Week will provide some valuable input to our on-going Fitness Check into the nature directives. That means looking for ways to improve the way they work and make them easier to enforce, without compromising the goals that are so important to our citizens,” he said.

He pointed out that creating sustainability should not be looked on as a burden but as an opportunity.

While the EU has been a leader in education and healthcare for its citizens, that does not automatically mean the bloc will be a leader in creating sustainability. The EU states cannot hope that sustainable policies will be created by random chance. It will take some political will to shift to a circular economy.

He also stressed that while many policies are currently being re-evaluated and updated, this does not mean that standards are being lowered.

Commissioner Karmenu Vella, responsible for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, addressed the Red List reports. “These reports contain some worrying statistics – but they also show the value of well-targeted actions to protect the biodiversity we depend on. Our task is to find ways of building on those successes, and spreading them to other areas. Green Week is an excellent opportunity to gather input for the next steps.”

He also stressed that nature and economy are not opposing concepts but instead need to be integrated. There also needs to be a shift in mindsets.

The cost of not taking action over environmental issues needs to be calculated, and taken into account as an economic factor.

“If we treat Mother Nature good, she will treat us better; if we treat Mother Nature badly, she will treat us worse,” he said.

These latest Red Lists also demonstrate that efforts to improve vulnerable ecosystems can be highly effective.

Despite some conservation successes, many fish are in decline due to overfishing, changing land use, pollution, infrastructure development and climate change. While Atlantic cod and Atlantic bluefin tuna are recovering, marine management has been less successful for other commercial species. Sharks and rays are the most threatened, with 40.4 percent of them threatened with extinction, and 39.7 percent experiencing declining populations. The critically endangered angelshark (Squatina squatina), once found throughout European waters, is now restricted to the Canary Islands.

Looking at birds, 13 percent of the 533 species assessed are under threat, including 10 that are critically endangered. These include iconic birds such as the sociable lapwing, yellow-breasted bunting and slender-billed curlew. But targeted conservation action prompted by EU initiatives has led to success: 20 once-threatened species are now classified as least concern, including the Dalmatian pelican, Eurasian thick-knee, black kite and lesser kestrel.

Green Week speakers also pointed to successes in reintroducing animal species back into the wild, such as wolves and bears.

There is also concern over invasive or alien species of plants and animals, and the EU is working on a comprehensive policy to deal with them in the near future as delays can have catastrophic consequences and make containment or eradication much more difficult.

The EU’s Biodiversity Strategy sets out actions to halt and reverse by 2020 the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services. The Commission is currently undertaking a mid-term assessment of the strategy, which will identify possible areas for improvement.

The Commission is also undertaking a fitness check of nature legislation. Green Week will feature dedicated sessions where these and other issues will be discussed and debated. In parallel, an online consultation on the nature legislation – the Birds and Habitats Directives – is open until July 24.

Read more: Praguepost.com

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