Today only 15 to 25 per cent of Europe’s land remains as traditional farmland of high conservation value. Most is located in eastern and southern Europe, and much of it is becoming too fragmented for many species to survive (EEA and UNEP 2004, EEA 2005a). Enormous pressure on Europe’s landscapes and biodiversity continues, caused by unsound agricultural practices and expanding land uptake for housing, services, recreation, industry, and transport infrastructure (GLOBIO 3
2005, Blue Plan 2005, EEA 2005a). Road networks expanded in Western Europe by some 365 000 km between 1990 and 1999, 200 000 km in Central Europe (1990–2001) and 105 000 km in Eastern Europe (1992–2001) (GEO Data Portal based
on World Bank 2005).
Although conventional rail and inland waterways cause less pressure on landscapes and biodiversity, EU investments focus on high-speed rail and motorway networks through transport corridors, even in Southern-central and Eastern Europe (EEA 2004a).2005 demonstrated once again that unsound management of soils, forests, rivers and groundwater also leaves ecosystems and societies more susceptible to extreme weather (Box 4). Better adapted and more integrated land and water planning and management could prevent some of the high social and economic costs incurred (CEC and JRC 2005, EEA 2005c, GFMC 2005, WWF 2005b, WWF 2005c).
Europe has many regional, national and sub-national land use policies and programmes in place, such as the EU Birds and Habitat directives, the integrated UNECE Pan-European Biological Diversity and Landscape Strategy, the Natura-2000 and Emerald Networks, and the EU Water Framework Directive.
|Box 4: Extreme weather events in Europe
The most serious drought in the Iberian Peninsula in 60 years occurred in 2005, reducing overall EU cereal yields by an estimated ten per cent. The drought also triggered forest fires, killing 15 people and destroying
180 000 hectares of forest and farmland in Portugal alone. Meanwhile, torrential rains flooded areas that were recurrently hit between 1998 and 2002 (Figure). The 2005 floods killed at least 70 people. Damages in
the Alps alone were estimated at US$2 000 million. Extreme weather is not the only cause of such events. Canalization of rivers, draining of wetlands, clearing forests and sealing soils to cater for housing and industrial development in vulnerable floodplains – all increase the risk of flooding. Crop failures may result from excess dependence on (or inefficient) irrigation, as well as lack of rain.Sources: CEC and JRC 2005, EEA 2005c, GFMC 2005, Planet Ark 2005, WWF 2005b, WWF 2005c
|Box 5: Oil discharges in European waters
Increasing production, consumption and waste means an increase in marine transport – with increasing risks of major oil spill accidents. In addition, routine shipping operations (by all types of ships including merchant ships, fishing and tourist vessels) result in roughly three times more oil discharges than the amount released during accidental spills. For seas surrounding the European Union almost 3 000 illegal oil dumping incidents are reported every year – around half of them in the Mediterranean. It is believed, however, that this only represents a small percentage of the actual incidents. Despite international, regional seas and domestic conventions and legislation, oil dumping at sea remains a major unsolved and uncontrolled environmental problem. It is hoped that the recently proposed EU Marine Strategy Directive will improve the situation through measures including better monitoring. Oil spills can be easily detected and monitored with remote sensing techniques. The map below shows 1 400 oil spills detected in the Mediterranean from 2 240 radar
images in 2002, the last complete dataset available. The areas off north Africa show few spills, but this may be because they are less thoroughly covered by satellite monitoring.
Sources: EU 2005, JRC 2005, Kluser and others 2005, Oceana 2003
However, many of Europe’s landscapes and species continue to deteriorate (EEA 2005a), with massive costs in lost
biodiversity and ecosystem services (OECD 2005a). The challenge is to design incentives to conserve nature and
disincentives against damage, through legal instruments and economic tools such as tradable environmental permits.
Production of bio-fuel is another growing
form of land use that may have drastic negative impacts on Europe’s landscapes, food production and biodiversity (Box 6).
The EU has set a target that bio-fuel should form 5.75 per cent of road transport energy use by 2010 (CEC 2004).
Growing the required bio-fuel crops on EU territory would take between four and 13 per cent of its total agricultural area.
More research is needed to find bio-fuel crop combinations with low requirements in land area and production intensity,
such as adding woody biomass to the arable crops<
that currently dominate the market (EEA 2004b, EEA 2005d).