Select Committee on European Scrutiny Second Report


COM(01) 162

I  Commission Communication: Biodiversity Action Plans in the areas of Conservation of Natural Resources, Agriculture, Fisheries, and Development and Economic Co-operation.

II  Biodiversity Action Plan for the Conservation of Natural Resources.

III  Biodiversity Action Plan for Agriculture

IV  Biodiversity Action Plan for Fisheries

V  Biodiversity Action Plan for Economic and Development Co-operation.

Legal base:
Document originated: 27 March 2001
Forwarded to the Council: 28 March 2001
Deposited in Parliament: 25 April 2001
Department: Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Basis of consideration: EM of 20 June 2001
Previous Committee Report: None
To be discussed in Council: 29 October 2001
Committee's assessment: Politically important
Committee's decision: Cleared


22.1 As parties to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the Community and its Member States are required to develop strategies for the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity, and, as far as possible, to integrate these aims into relevant sectoral policies. In February 1998, the Commission put forward a Community Biodiversity Strategy[50] which set out four main themes — conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity; sharing the benefits from the utilisation of genetic resources; research, identification, monitoring and exchange of information; and education, training and awareness. It was further proposed that these themes should be applied to a number of policy areas, some of which would be pursued within the context of other initiatives such as the Community strategy on climate change, whilst for others, the Biodiversity Strategy would be followed up by Action Plans, comprising further Communications (and, where appropriate, proposals for legislation) setting out clear targets and indicators to evaluate progress.

22.2 The present document comprises a more general Commission Communication, accompanied by individual Action Plans for four areas identified in the previous Communication — conservation of natural resources, agriculture, fisheries, and development and economic co-operation.

The current documents

— Volume I: Commission Communication

22.3 The Commission recalls the background contained in its earlier Communication, and the European Council's commitment to a Sustainable Development Strategy, which will help determine the Community's position for the major international meeting next year to mark ten years since the 1992 Rio Conference on Environment and Development. It also stresses that the integration of biodiversity concerns into the four policy areas in question both supports the process initiated at the Cardiff European Council in 1998, and forms an important part of the forthcoming Sixth Environmental Action Programme.[51] The Communication briefly summarises the contents of the four sectoral Action Plans, pointing out that, as the policy areas concerned impinge on each other, there is inevitably a degree of overlap, and hence a need for co-ordinated implementation, monitoring and assessment (including the development of suitable indicators). With this in mind, the Commission proposes the establishment of a Biodiversity Expert Committee to share information and improve the extent to which actions at Community and Member State levels complement each other.

— Volume II: Biodiversity Action Plan for the Conservation of Natural Resources

22.4 This Plan envisages action under a number of headings:

    (a) Maintaining natural habitats and wild species

22.5 The Communication observes that the Birds Directive (79/409/EEC)[52] and the Habitats Directive (92/43/EEC)[53] are two key elements for the conservation of wild species and their habitats, with the former providing for the protection, management and control of endangered species (including rules for their exploitation), and the latter for the designation of a network of special conservation areas under Natura 2000. The Commission notes that, despite an obligation to do so, several Member States have still failed to implement these measures, and gives a high priority to this commitment being met by all Member States by 2002. This will be supplemented by the establishment of a full Community list of sites for Natura 2000, including those in marine and forest areas, and the provision of adequate financial and technical support. In addition, management plans will be developed for selected species, including those (particularly birds) threatened by hunting.

    (b) Reversing current trends of biodiversity loss related to the management of water, soil, forests and wetlands

22.6 The Communication highlights the importance of the Water Framework Directive (2000/60/EEC)[54] in preventing further deterioration of water quality and aquatic ecosystems through a combination of pollution control at source and the setting of environmental quality standards. It also points out that, although the Directive is not aiming as such at protecting particular habitats or species, it nevertheless uses biodiversity as the central indicator to define what constitutes ecological status. In this context, it envisages the development for every river basin of analyses of the balance between water quantity and quality and demand, including that for agricultural irrigation, energy generation, and industrial, drinking and ecological uses.

22.7 As regards the interaction between land use and biodiversity, the Communication notes the potential impact of a range of factors, and the steps which can be taken, including forestry support to combat erosion, controls over the use of nitrates and pesticides, and the management of sewage sludge and waste disposal. It says that it intends to examine further the possibility of strengthening existing legislation in these areas, and that it is seeking to establish a basic database on soil, which it sees as an essential conservation tool.

22.8 The Commission says that the conservation of wetlands is being addressed through the development of the Natura 2000 network, but that, since a significant part of Europe's major wetlands are located in the coastal zone, this can be complemented by integrated coastal management. It points out that it has already adopted a Communication[55] setting out a Community strategy on this subject, and it stresses the need for it to be implemented.

    (c) Reversing the current trend of biodiversity loss across the whole territory

22.9 In this section, the Communication addresses the need to enhance biodiversity outside protected areas, where it identifies three priorities.

22.10 First, it says that biodiversity should be integrated into the main land use related policies — agriculture, fisheries and aquaculture, structural funds and urban environment — the first two of which are dealt with in the Action Plans set out respectively in Volumes II and III below. On the structural funds, the Commission aims to integrate biodiversity in the environmental appraisals now required under the relevant Regulation (EC/1260/1999)[56], whilst, on the urban environment, it highlights the need identified in its 1998 Communication[57] on sustainable urban development to reduce the use of greenfield land and promote the recycling of that which is derelict or contaminated.

22.11 Secondly, the Commission stresses the support which can be given to biodiversity through horizontal environmental policies. These include the precautionary principle (on which it adopted a Communication[58] in February 2000); the role of an environmental liability regime (and in particular the Framework Directive proposed in the White Paper[59] it produced that same month); the application of the revised procedures for environmental impact assessments; public participation in environmental assessments and procedures; and eco-labelling and audit schemes. The other area singled out by the Commission in this section of its Communication is the need for greater information on the toxicity of chemicals, a point which is addressed in its recent White Paper[60] on a future strategy for Community chemicals policy.

22.12 Thirdly, the Commission focuses on the need to support biodiversity through policies addressing genetic resources. This includes such issues as alien invasive species; the handling of biotechnology, so as to minimise the adverse effects caused by the release (and contained use) of genetically modified organisms; and ex-situ conservation in zoos and botanic gardens.

    (d) Contributing to biodiversity preservation at global level

22.13 In addition, the Action Plan deals with the preservation of biodiversity in a wider context. In particular, it draws attention to the need for implementing Community legislation arising from the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species; to promote better co-ordination between different initiatives in the field of climate change, ozone layer depletion and desertification; and to identify interactions between the CBD and activities under other existing international agreements in order to increase synergy.

— Volume III: Biodiversity Action Plan for Agriculture

22.14 This Action Plan takes as its starting point the conflicting impact which agriculture can have on biodiversity. Thus, on the one hand, intensive production (for example, involving the use of fertilisers and pesticides, and the disappearance of hedges and ditches) can lead to significant biodiversity losses, whilst, on the other hand, such losses would also occur if certain agricultural activities which support important types of biodiversity (for example, in the hill areas, semi-natural grassland and wetlands) were to be abandoned. It adds that the crucial consideration is the maintenance of relatively open semi-natural habitats dependent on the continuation of appropriate farming practices, and it notes the part played, particularly since 1992, by the so-called agri-environment measures, which it says now apply to around 20% of agricultural land in the Community (though it adds that the uptake is generally low in highly productive and intensive areas). It also observes that the conservation of biodiversity is a crucial factor in the success of the agricultural sector.

22.15 Against this background, the Commission suggests that the priority for any biodiversity strategy in this area should involve achieving a rational degree of intensification by developing sound agricultural practices; encouraging less intensive use of inputs; promoting "coherent" production systems like organic farming or integrated crop management; supporting extensive production, especially in the livestock sector; and achieving sustainable management of natural resources, in particular water. This would be supplemented by measures to maintain sustainable farming activity, the use of agri-environmental incentives, the maintenance of a strong ecological infrastructure, steps to support the use and promotion of local varieties, and measures to prevent the dominance of non-native species. It also considers that there should be a systematic approach based on complementary Community and national instruments, with better co-ordination than in the past.

22.16 The Communication states that the Action Plan should be based on the optimal use of a number of Community instruments affecting biodiversity. These include:

  • the so-called "horizontal" Regulation (1259/1999)[61] which contains the rules for direct support schemes under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), and establishes the principle that, whilst farmers must be willing to accept a basic set of environmental rules without receiving any corresponding compensation, they could receive a payment for the costs of measures which go further than mere compliance with usual good farming practice;

  • the measures in Regulation 1257/1999[62] providing targeted agri-environmental support from the EAGGF for rural development;

  • measures affecting the less-favoured areas, and areas with specific environmental constraints, which provide for an allowance to compensate for the natural and structural drawbacks of the land in question (and which is subject to the observance of good agricultural practice);

  • the environmental components of the common market organisation, such as the de-coupling of aid from production, the introduction of set-aside, and the encouragement of more extensive livestock production;

  • plant protection legislation, which ensures that only products which meet strict safety requirements for consumers and the environment may be used;

  • the Regulation (2467/94)[63] governing the conservation, collection and utilisation of genetic resources in agriculture, which helps to safeguard local varieties;

  • seeds legislation; and

  • legislation on the release of genetically modified organisms into the environment.

— Volume IV: Biodiversity Action Plan for Fisheries

22.17 As with agriculture, this Action Plan notes the inter-relationship between fishing activities and the preservation of biodiversity. Thus, on the one hand, over-exploitation of stocks can lead to changes in the eco-system and loss of diversity, whilst, on the other hand, the fishing sector is highly dependant on a sustainable aquatic eco-system and hence on maintaining its biological diversity and production. It also notes that one of the main objectives of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) is to protect marine resources, and that a number of management tools are provided for this purpose, such as quantitative limits on catches, restrictions on zones where fishing may take place, measures to regulate fishing gear, and minimum landing sizes. It therefore concludes that the legal framework for the CFP can support a broad integration of environmental concerns in the fisheries sector, and that this is reinforced by a number of wider international agreements, including the UN Law of the Sea Convention, and those establishing various regional and sectoral fishing organisations.

22.18 More specifically, the Action Plan envisages the adoption of management objectives in accordance with the precautionary approach for commercially important fish stocks, non-target species and habitats; measures to avoid depletion of local, genetically distinct stocks; and strengthening the implementing of existing and developing new technical conservation measures. Among other things, this would involve long-term management plans for all major stocks, with catch limits being set on a multi-annual basis, together with more ambitious targets for reducing over-capacity in the fishing fleets. These steps would be complemented by basic research to support the integration of biodiversity considerations into fisheries policies. In addition, the Commission says that it is important to improve the level of coherence between the CFP and environmental instruments and their implementation; to ensure that fisheries policies do not cause damage to the environments of third countries; and to enhance the involvement of fishermen in habitat restoration and in reducing contaminants and excess of nutrients into rivers, estuaries and seas.

22.19 The Action Plan also deals with the problems arising from the expanding aquaculture industry, notably the local impact on biodiversity in inshore areas and fresh waters arising from the release of nutrients, pests and escaping species. A further factor in this sector is the extent to which, by comparison with capture fisheries, regulation is achieved by national legislation having its origins in other areas of Community policy, such as water quality. It is proposed that, on a precautionary basis, there should be guidelines for aquaculture outputs encompassing chemical, physical and biological criteria; guidelines on the use, containment and transport of farmed organisms; the integration of aquaculture into catchment and coastal area management; and the utilisation of thorough environmental impact assessment procedures. Emphasis would also be placed on controlling the introduction of new species and on achieving a high health status. Again, these measures would be backed up by suitable research.

Volume V: Action Plan for Economic and Development Cooperation

22.20 The Commission notes that most of the world's biodiversity is found in the developing countries in the tropical regions, where many people depend upon it to support their livelihoods. However, it also comments that this biodiversity is being lost at unprecedented rates, and that this will only be reversed if the costs and benefits of conservation are integrated into the social and economic development of the countries concerned. More specifically, it emphasizes the need to achieve this through the Community's economic and development cooperation policies, and by strengthening the capacity of the relevant agencies and the recipient countries, further integrating environmental impact assessments into this area of activity, and coordinating this strategy with those of third countries, as well as other parties and international organisations

The Government's view

22.21 In his Explanatory Memorandum of 20 June 2001, the Minister for the Environment at the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr Michael Meacher) says that the Government "warmly welcomes" the Commission's Communication and the adoption of the four Biodiversity Action Plans, which he considers represent a significant step towards implementation of the Community Biodiversity Strategy. He adds that this also demonstrates a commitment, in line with the Cardiff European Council and the Sixth Environment Action Plan, to integrating biodiversity conservation into other policies, notably the CAP and CFP.

22.22 The Minister says that the UK also welcomes the fact that the steps taken by the Commission are consistent with, and complementary to, the approach adopted by the UK Biodiversity Action Plan, and that the Government will endeavour to ensure that implementation is taken forward in practice and progress monitored. It therefore welcomes the proposal to ensure close co-operation between the various Commission services involved, and the intention to set up a Biodiversity Expert Committee (which it would like to see as a means of monitoring and chasing progress).

22.23 Since the Minister submitted his Explanatory Memorandum, we understand that the Action Plans for Agriculture and Fisheries have been considered by the respective Councils, and that the over-arching Commission Communication, together with Action Plans for the Conservation of Natural Resources and for Development and Economic Co-operation, will be coming before the next meeting of the Environment Council on 29 October.


22.24 As the Minister says, these are clearly important — and welcome — documents, which both take forward the process initiated by the 1998 Strategy and point the way for further more specific action. On that basis, we are drawing them to the attention of the House, but, as the Minister points out in his Explanatory Memorandum, they do not give rise to any direct financial implications, these depending upon the speed, and precise way, in which the recommendations are taken forward. We are accordingly clearing the documents.

50   (18852) 5910/98; see HC 155-xxi (1997-98), paragraph 8 (11 March 1998). Back

51   (22132) 5771/01; see HC 28-xi (2000-01), paragraph 5 (4 April 2001), HC 152-i (2001-02), paragraph 3 (18 July 2001) and HC 152-ii (2001-02), paragraph 2 (17 October 2001). Back

52   OJ No. L 103, 25.4.79, p.1. Back

53   OJ No. L 5, 10.1.92, p.8. Back

54   OJ No. L 7, 12.1.00, pp 4-5. Back

55  (18786) 5301/98; see HC 155-xvi (1997-98), paragraph 13 (11 February 1998). Back

56  OJ No. L 9, 13.1.00, p.30. Back

57  (20776) 13558/99; see HC 23-xxvii (1999-2000), paragraph 13 (25 October 2000). Back

58  (21005) 6055/00; see HC 23-xiii (1999-2000), paragraph 28 (5 April 2000). Back

59  (21012) 6230/00; see HC 23-xiii (1999-2000), paragraph 1 (5 April 2000). Back

60   (22212) 6671/01; see HC 28-xii (2000-01), paragraph 1 (25 April 2001). Back

61  OJ No. L 160, 26.6.99, pp.113-118. Back

62  OJ No. L 063, 3.3.01, p.67 Back

63  OJ No. L 159 26.8.94, p.1. Back

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