Newsletter No 4 December 2013

Towards no net loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services in Europe

The EU aims to achieve no net loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services by 2020, a major challenge. IVM researchers Nynke Schulp, Astrid van Teeffelen and international colleagues quantify trends and assess policy options to meet this aim.

What land use changes are expected for Europe by the year 2020, and what does this mean for ecosystem services and biodiversity? What policy measures could be taken to prevent, minimise and offset the losses, and how effective are they likely to be? These questions are being addressed in the context of OPERAs (FP7 project, 2012-2017) and on request of the European Commission.

The changes in land use under a Business as Usual (BaU) scenario up to 2020 were quantified using the land use model CLUE-scanner. From these maps, the changes in 11 ecosystem services like carbon sequestration and pollination, and four indicators related to biodiversity (e.g. bird species richness and habitat connectivity) were calculated and mapped. Subsequently, the effectiveness of additional policy measures in four scenarios to achieve no net loss was assessed. The policy scenarios increase in strictness of regulations: scenario A includes voluntary measures for offsets and avoidance measures. Scenarios B-D set restrictions on certain land use conversions and require offsets (i.e. habitat restoration) for habitat (forest and semi-natural vegetation) that is converted to urban area or arable land.

At EU level, biodiversity-related indicators show increasing improvements in scenarios A through D, compared to the BaU scenario(Fig. 1). At regional level outcomes are mixed, for example the increased compactness of urban regions reduced habitat connectivity and bird species richness in those regions, while it improves in other regions (Fig 2).

There is no single best scenario for the supply of ecosystem services (Fig. 3). Obviously, offsetting habitat loss goes at the cost of agricultural land and crop production. This trades off with other ecosystem services. Legislation requires offsets to be created close to locations of habitat loss. Consequently, close to areas of urban or cropland expansion new semi-natural habitats are created. These are favourable for crop pollination; crop pollination thus increases considerably due to offsetting policies (Fig. 3). Carbon sequestration is reduced substantially under the BaU scenario, due to forest loss. Scenarios A-B are able to offset this loss to a certain extent, but not entirely as forest regeneration is a slow process. The capacity of the landscape to support nature-based recreation is favoured by the more compact city expansion and stricter protected area measures in scenario A. The offsetting in scenarios B through D shows some trade-emptyoffs with highly valued cultural landscapes in the direct vicinity to cities and with the capacity of the landscape to support recreation.

The model analysis shows that policy measures to reduce and offset impacts of land use change on biodiversity and ecosystem services have potential across Europe, although reducing pressures from agricultural expansion and urbanisation is key. The analysis highlights the type and location of trade-offs between ecosystem services, which need to be carefully addressed.

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Figure 1. Change in connectivity for areas that are poorly connected in the year 2000 (right hand side) to areas that are well connected in 2000 (left hand side), for all scenarios. Negative values indicate a reduction in connectivity, positive values indicate an improvement in connectivity.

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Figure 2. Expected change in the number of selected bird species (in percentages) , averaged per administrative unit, under the Business as Usual scenario.

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Figure 3. Change in average provision of four ecosystem services compared to 2000 (index = 100%)

More information: Dr Nynke Schulp and Dr Astrid van Teeffelen