Biodiversity is the diversity of life on Earth, including the diversity of genes, species and ecosystems. Diversity of life ensures environmental resilience and provides humans with the oxygen, food, medicine and energy they need. However, the recent Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services reveals that biodiversity is declining worldwide faster than at any time in human history, putting at risk current and future human well-being. This is directly due to land or sea use change, overexploitation of biodiversity resources, climate change, pollution, and invasive alien species. But ultimately, these pressures are driven by our ways of producing and consuming goods and services – which are currently unsustainable. We, humans, as a species, are currently threatening one million other species with extinction.
As a response to this crisis, biodiversity conservation applies concrete actions for preserving life on Earth, based on the tools and principles developed in the scientific field of conservation biology. Such actions can be classified into four broad categories that are further described below.
A first category of conservation actions aims to protect species and their habitats facing particular threats. The tools to achieve such protection are diverse and include species and area protection.
In Europe, the Birds and Habitats directives ensure protection by the physical protection of individual species across the EU countries as well as the conservation of core breeding and resting sites for certain particularly rare and threatened species. The Habitats directive also establishes the EU wide Natura 2000 ecological network of protected areas, safeguarded against potentially damaging developments.
Species and area protection are also key elements of international biodiversity policies, such as the action targets currently under discussions for the post-2020 global biodiversity framework and the Sustainable Development Goals to be achieved by 2030.
A second category of conservation actions aims to restore species populations and habitats that have been damaged, degraded or destroyed by human activities. These solutions include the restoration of natural and semi-natural areas (for example by replanting trees and removing human-made barriers limiting the movement of organisms) and the creation of green spaces in urban and peri-urban environments.
In Europe, such restoration solutions are promoted under the Green Infrastructure Strategy, encouraging the deployment of green (and blue) infrastructure at European and Member States level, as a strategically planned network of natural and semi-natural areas in both urban and rural context.
Reduce direct pressures
A third category of conservation actions aims to reduce the direct pressures on biodiversity, the main ones being:
- change in land and/or sea use
- direct exploitation of organisms
- climate change
- invasive species
This category of solutions requires cross-sectorial cooperation between different thematic policies: for instance, agricultural, fisheries, transport, regional and urban policies need to account for their impact on biodiversity. This also requires strong international cooperation as climate change is a global issue and invasive species cross borders.
In Europe, the Common Agricultural Policy, the Regional and Urban Policy and the Trans-European Transport Network policy can – among others – influence change in land and/or sea use. The Common Fisheries Policy and national forest policies regulate the direct exploitation of organisms, while the regulations on wildlife trade under the EU Wildlife trade legislation and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) limit direct exploitation. The implementation of carbon taxes under the EU emissions trading system aims at limiting carbon emissions and therefore climate change. The regulation on nicotinoids and the use of pollution taxes under the EU Nitrates Directive aim at reducing pollution. The EU Regulation on Invasive Alien Species comprises a set of preventive, eradication and management measures to avoid, limit and mitigate the effects of invasive alien species.
Reduce indirect pressures
Finally, another category of conservation solutions aims to reduce the indirect pressures our way of life generates on biodiversity. This can be achieved by changing how we consume and produce goods and services, both at the levels of individuals and organisations.
In Europe, the new Farm to Fork Strategy specifically aims at changing the ways we produce and consume food to make them more sustainable.
- IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List of Threatened Species
- Natura2000 Network Viewer
- Digital Observatory for Protected Areas
- LIFE program