May 17, 2011

EU Species Under Threat Of Extinction

Hundreds of species across Europe are under threat of extinction in a 'crisis of biodiversity', according to European Union Environment Commissioner Janez Potocnik.

Animals such as the Iberian lynx of southern Spain, the Mediterranean monk seal off the coast of Greece and Turkey, and the Bavarian pine vole of the Alps could soon be gone, Potocnik said.
According to the warning issued this month, up to one-quarter of Europe's native species are now threatened with extinction.

"Biodiversity is in crisis, with species extinctions running at unparalleled rates," said Potocnik in a statement.

The threatened species include mammals, amphibians, reptiles, birds, butterflies and plants.

Several factors are driving the crisis, including pollution, loss of habitat, alien species encroachment, climate change and overfishing, according to the paper.

Critics say the solutions proposed by the EU do not go far enough, and lack adequate funding.

"Life is possible because of biodiversity," said Ana Nieto of the International Union for Conservation of Nature during an interview with the Associated Press (AP).

"Everything comes from biodiversity. Everything comes from having well-functioning ecosystems."

The crisis threatens humans as well, and could cause economic and social problems in Europe, said Potocnik spokesman Joe Hennon.

The continuing loss of birds could allow insects to breed at worrying rates, threatening crops. Additionally, shrinking numbers of bees inhibits plant pollination, while diminishing forests mean water is not cleaned naturally and the soil is loosened, increasing the likelihood of floods and mudslides.

All of that, Hennon said, means governments should fund solutions that preserve these species from extinction.

"People say, 'Yes, but we don't have the money to spend on environmental protection. Surely growth and jobs are more important,'" Hennon told the Daily Mail newspaper.

"You have to say, 'Well, look what happened in Pakistan last year. You can have catastrophic flooding because forests have been cut down. So it ends up costing you more in the long run."

An EU solution put forth this month by Potocnik sets several targets, such as halting the loss of species in EU countries by 2020, enacting management plans for all forests, restoring 15 percent of degraded ecosystems and controlling invasive species.

And while environmentalists have praised the targets, they are skeptical.

"There needs to be funding and there's not really funding," Nieto said.

Hennon admitted on Monday that funding has so far been inadequate to meet the EU's goals.

A report outlining the new plan said the European Commission, the EU's executive arm, is "assessing the funding needs" for implementing the 2020 targets.
The EU failed to meet its biodiversity goals for 2010.

The European Environmental Bureau, a coalition of grassroots environmental groups, said the EU strategy "appears to fall short of delivering what is needed to protect Europe's valuable natural resource base."

Nieto said the loss of biodiversity is more severe in Europe due to the scale of its residential and industrial development. Indeed, with 180 people per square mile on average, Europe is the second most densely populated continent on Earth, lagging behind only Asia, and about three times as densely populated as North America.

"Today, biodiversity doesn't simply mean the protection of rare plants and species," said European Environmental Bureau official Sarolta Tripolzsky.

"It's about protecting a system people rely on to live. The costs of replacing nature's free services would be devastating."

Conservationists stress that ecosystems tend to find a complex balance over time, and that changing one seemingly tiny aspect can have dramatic consequences that cannot always be predicted.

They say there's also a duty to preserve species, despite the consequences.

"The species was here before we were even here, so there's also a moral issue," Nieto told the Daily Mail newspaper.

Image Courtesy Wikipedia (CC BY 2.5)