Technical report 125

Conclusions

Regulations and guidelines for chemical environmental risk and impact assessment have consistent, high‑level, aspirational goals for protecting the environment as a whole, including ecosystem structure and how to achieve ecosystem-level protection in the prospective ERA of chemicals. Despite generic ecosystem-level protection goals being common to all chemical sectors, specific protection goals are conspicuously lacking, which has engendered a high degree of conservatism in risk assessments and reliance on the precautionary principle (Table 3.1). All chemical sectors rely on generic predicted no-effect concentrations, PNECs, (or predicted no-adverse effect concentrations) to protect ecological populations per se in prospective ERA. Specific protection goals for ecosystems are generally limited to wider environmental / nature legislation requiring environmental monitoring and impact assessment and retrospective ERA. This is due mainly to the existence of tangible baselines or reference conditions, which help define acceptable versus unacceptable environmental effects. In some cases these specific protection goals are based on a reductionist approach and rely on population-based indicators of ecosystem health (e.g. OSPAR), while others are more holistic and therefore more in tune with the concept of the ‘ecosystem approach’ (e.g. protection of entire habitat features under the Habitats Directive, protection of aquatic ecological communities under the Water Framework Directive’). A promising yet not yet fully operational alternative is the spatially explicit, holistic and pragmatic ‘ecosystem services approach’ recently devised for plant protection products (EFSA, 2010; Nienstedt et al, 2012). We propose that better protection of ‘the environment as a whole’ will be facilitated by amalgamating this new approach with current best practices for defining ‘specific protection goals’, as identified during this review of current chemical and environmental regulations.