Message from Prague

Message from the 2nd European Congress of Conservation Biology (ECCB2009)

to EU Environment Ministers

Need for priority actions rather than visions – biodiversity conservation beyond 2010

Human activities have triggered the 6th mass extinction in the history of earth! In spite of the ambitious target to halt the loss of biodiversity by 2010, the decline continues almost unabated. Short term economic and development interests systematically undervalue biodiversity and ecosystem functions1. In combination with human consumption patterns this has resulted in rising pressures on marine, freshwater and terrestrial ecosystems and their associated biodiversity. Immediate causes of biodiversity decline include the loss of natural habitats2, habitat fragmentation3, invasive species4, overexploitation of natural resources5, pollution and climate change6. As has been recognized at he highest political levels, globally and within the EU (e.g. G8 “Carta di Siracusa”, EC Athens statement)7, the loss of biodiversity threatens long term sustainability of human endeavours and resilience of ecosystem processes upon which humankind depends.

The 2nd European Congress of Conservation Biology, attended by more than 1250 conservation scientists and professionals, urges the EU environment ministers and high level officials participating in the conference “Visions for Biodiversity beyond 2010 – People, Ecosystem Services and the Climate Crisis” in Strömstad to immediately move from recognizing the problems to implementing solutions8. This should be done by increasing political, legal, economic, administrative, educational, research and financial efforts towards halting the ongoing loss of biodiversity and restoring ecosystem health. Conservation scientists gathering in Prague are actively involved in providing the scientific underpinning of policies geared at effective biodiversity conservation. We offer our co-operation (e.g. IPBES process)9 convinced that actions based on scientific knowledge and a strong political will can halt the current crises  and the unacceptable consequences of a continued loss of European and global biodiversity.

Prague, September 5th, 2009

1.    TEEB – A major stride towards a better evaluation of the economical values of biodiversity is the ongoing study “The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity”, TEEB. The study evaluates the cost of the loss of biodiversity and the associated decline in ecosystem services worldwide, and compares them with the costs of effective conservation and sustainable use. It will provide a better understanding of the economic value of biodiversity and ecosystem services and facilitate the development of cost-effective policy responses. Politicians need to make sure that TEEB results will be integrated into valuation of political action including alternate routes for socio-economic development at all levels.

2.    Habitat loss – The loss of natural habitat remains the most important reason for species decline and extinction. For instance the extensive transformation of European forests, agricultural landscapes and aquatic ecosystems has pushed a large number of species to the brink of extinction. Remaining forests, water bodies and other natural habitats with high conservation value must be set aside to halt this process; agro-environment funding must be strengthened relative to subsidies provided for high intensity farming.

3.    Fragmentation – Associated with habitat loss is an increasing fragmentation of remaining natural habitats. Transport networks and consequential secondary development have become one of the most serious threats to biological diversity especially in Europe. There is a need to explicitly and legally protect the remaining road-less areas in Europe and to solidly implement the provisions of article 10 in the Habits Directive in development planning and processes at all levels.

4.    Invasive species – invasive species have been recognized as one of the major threats to biodiversity in terrestrial, freshwater and marine ecosystems. The EU and EU member states need a legal and procedural framework to minimize exposure to invasive species.

5.    Overexploitation – pressures from fisheries are considered the main driver of marine biodiversity loss in and outside EU waters. Intensification associated with the production of biomass for the energy sector is considered to exaggerate additional pressure on the remaining biodiversity in agricultural ecosystems. Loss of set aside areas and intensification of grassland use are particularly important in this respect. There is a need to define thresholds for exploitation well below theoretical short term maxima and integrate such reduced thresholds into marine and land use policies.

6.    Climate change – climate change will cause decisive alterations in key environmental parameters and act as a major stressor on species and ecosystem processes. Biodiversity mitigate climate change effects. Climate change is ongoing and mitigation will largely depend on de-fragmentation – provide opportunities for species to move to suitable habitat. A challenge with climate change policy lies in the fact that actions to reduce CO2 emissions can harm biodiversity (see 5). This has to be reflected in a detailed, proper and independent assessment of such policies with respect to biodiversity effects.

7.    The political community is well aware of the critical situation for biodiversity and the severe implications of the loss of ecosystem services. This provides the needed political incentive for real change. Especially we note the “Carta di Siracusa on Biodiversity” statement (endorsed by G8 and a range of other countries) that summarises the situation correctly and points to needed actions.

8.    This should begin with a more complete implementation of Birds- and Habitat directives, including the Natura 2000 network, the EU Biodiversity Action Plan and the laws underpinning them.

9.    Although already working on solutions we see the need to better transfer knowledge to decision making processes. Therefore the Society for Conservation Biology has established an ad-hoc committee aiming to work closely with other organizations in the process of establishing the Intergovernmental science-policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, IPBES. We note the success of the IPCC and hope that the lessons learned from this process to ensure that IPBES becomes a flexible, credible and independent mechanism for incorporating scientific information into the policy process.