Technical report 125

Changing policy context

Over the last 10 years there has been increasing emphasis both on the sustainable use of natural resources and on the recognition that humans are dependent on ecosystems for their well-being (Cardinale et al, 2012; CEFIC, 2013). This dependence extends beyond the resources provided by ecosystems (water, food, fibre, minerals, energy) to benefits such as climate regulation, flood control, pest and disease regulation, clean air and recreation. Benefits that flow from ecosystems, termed ecosystem goods and services (often combined as ecosystem services), are a function of the biophysical components of ecosystems and are underpinned by biodiversity. The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (2005a) drew attention both to the reliance of human well-being on ecosystem services and to the widespread degradation of ecosystems and the services they provide.  For example, more than 60% of the Earth’s ecosystem services have been degraded in the last 50 years and in the EU, 88% of fish stocks are fished beyond maximum sustainable yields and only 11% of protected ecosystems are in a favourable state (EC, 2011a).

The publication of UNEP’s Millennium Ecosystem Assessment in 2005 and its ongoing project – The Economics for Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) – have been extremely influential. The Millennium Assessment emphasised the need for robust scientific understanding of how ecosystems affect human well-being and TEEB has demonstrated the economic benefits of ecosystem services to human well-being as well as the economic costs of environmental degradation and habitat loss. Following UNEP’s lead, the European Union, along with the United States of America, are moving rapidly toward integrating the assessment of ecosystem services into their decision-making processes (Olander and Maltby, 2014).

The EU is implementing a number of policies to enhance the sustainable use of natural resources and halt the degradation of ecosystem services. The 2020 EU Biodiversity Strategy has a headline target of “By 2020 the loss of biodiversity in the EU and the degradation of ecosystem services will be halted and, as far as feasible, biodiversity will be restored” and sets out specific targets and policy tools for achieving this (EC, 2011b). These are: fully implement the Birds and Habitats Directives to conserve and restore nature (Target 1); incorporate green infrastructure into spatial planning to maintain and enhance ecosystems and their services (Target 2); use CAP reforms, sustainable forest management plans and the Marine Strategy Framework Directive to ensure the sustainability of agriculture, forestry and fisheries (Targets 3 and 4); introduce a new legislative instrument to combat invasive alien species (Target 5); address the global biodiversity crisis by alleviating pressure on biodiversity emanating from the EU (Target 6). Achieving these targets will require full implementation of existing EU legislation as well as action at national, regional and local level.

The EU Roadmap for a Resource Efficient Europe states that the Commission will “significantly strengthen its efforts to integrate biodiversity protection and ecosystem actions in other Community policies with particular focus on agriculture and fisheries”. It also states that Member States will “work towards the objectives of the Biodiversity Strategy by integrating the value of ecosystem services into policymaking” (EC, 2011a). The EU Marine Strategy Framework (Directive 2008/56/EC) outlines a transparent, legislative framework for an ecosystem-based approach to the management of human activities and supports the sustainable use of marine ecosystem services (EC, 2008a). Whereas the Green Infrastructure Strategy recognises that land in both rural and urban areas provides multiple ecosystem services and promotes green infrastructure through several policy areas including, climate change and environmental policies, disaster risk management, health and consumer policies and the Common Agricultural Policy (EC, 2013).

The EU has substantial legislation requiring the achievement of good ecological status for water by 2015 (Water Framework Directive [EC, 2000]) and marine ecosystems by 2020 (Marine Strategy Framework Directive [EC, 2008a]), and for regulating chemicals and their effects on the environment (e.g. REACH [EC, 2006a]). However, the implementation of this legislation may be revisited to ensure that the headline target of halting the loss of biodiversity and the degradation of ecosystem services is met. This process has already begun for plant protection products (EFSA, 2010) and the European Commission joint Scientific Committees report “Making Risk Assessment more Relevant for Risk Management” has highlighted the need for risks be “expressed in terms of impacts or entities that matter to people … such as changes in ecosystem services.” (SCHER/SCENIHR/SCCS, 2013). EU regulations relevant to the authorisation, release and management of chemicals in the environment are discussed further in Chapter 3.