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Karin Kadenbach on Biodiversity: A question of fairness

18th April 2012

Karin Kadenbach is a Member of the European Parliament.

2010 was the International Year of Biodiversity. Many promises were given then but many are neglected now. The European Parliament therefore calls for action because species extinction threatens our environment.

Statistics speak for themselves: 60 per cent of all ecosystems on earth get worse or have not been used in a sustainable manner; 90 per cent of our fish stocks are overfished and 25 % of all species in Europe are threatened with extinction. According to a study of the UN, the loss of species importantly decreases the worldwide gross domestic product (GDP) by 3% annually.

The main threats to biodiversity are destructive land use, carry-over of invasive foreign species, environmental pollution and climate change. As these phenomena have not been and are not being addressed properly, they are a serious threat to biodiversity. Besides these direct effects, there are indirect factors that are increasing the loss of biodiversity. Such factors can be the growth of population, limited awareness of the importance of biodiversity and the fact that the economic value of biodiversity is often not considered.

Loss of biodiversity is expensive

One fact that is often ignored and overlooked is that costs caused by the lack of actions in the field of biodiversity are much higher than the resources needed now for appropriate investments. Species extinction has dramatic consequences for our environment: ecosystems get out of balance and sometimes even crash. Possible results include not only famines and climate change but also the migration of human beings and animals.

The European Parliament gets active

The European Union declared the year 2010 to the year of biodiversity to highlight the importance of this topic and raise awareness. However the success was only limited. For this reason, the European Parliament has taken the initiative and is currently discussing the EU biodiversity strategy for 2020. The strategy is based on the important finding that biodiversity and its benefits for the planet have not only an intrinsic value but additionally are also of great economic importance for our society. As the price of biodiversity can only difficultly be measured, this issue is often a very controversial topic. One of the basic aims of the strategy is to demand from the European Commission and the member states a stronger commitment to the protection of wildlife and species conservation.

Concrete contents that are currently debated are for example following two questions: Should wildlife and species conservation be financed only by public funds, or should the private sector also have to pay its part? Which third countries can be convinced to work together with the European Union?

Well-being of honey bees as a crucial factor for biodiversity

The massive honey bee losses perfectly illustrate the current problem. Honey bees are one of the most important productive life stocks. The economic value of their pollination is being estimated up to 153. billion Euros, which is about 9,5 percent of the overall agricultural production that is used for human alimentation. As not every bee species can pollinate every plant, the conservation of the diversity of bee species is a major issue. That is why it is from great importance to stop the loss of bee stocks that is often due to the use of pesticides in agriculture.

Measures that have been taken so far together with the European Commission have not yet brought the desired results. Therefore, the well being of bees has to become a priority in the agricultural policy, but also needs to be considered in other policy areas.

There is still a lot that has to be done and a good opportunity to get started is the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy that is currently going on. In the course of this reform the European Parliament and the European Commission have to work together towards a prioritisation of the topic of bee protection.

Another important factor is the information of and political cooperation with farmers, as pesticides used in agriculture can have negative consequences to bee populations. They can affect their perception in a way that bees cannot fulfil their functions anymore or may even die. A possible instrument to avoid the use of pesticides and to diminish these problems would be a special incentive system for farmers.

Justice

A major point in the discussion about biodiversity is to understand that protection is not just a favour for some animals or plants that are threatened with extinction. Furthermore, it is a question of inter-generation fairness, because it deals with the future of our planet. This is why biodiversity merits our full attention and should be taken into account in all relevant policy areas. It is the task of the Common Agricultural Policy, the Common Fisheries Policy and of other fields of politics to take account of the environment.

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