Will the EU’s new invasive species regulation miss the chance to save billions of euros?
Invasive alien species (IAS, animals and plants that are introduced accidently or deliberately into a natural environment where they are not normally found) are the single major cause of global bird extinction since 1500 – the disappearances of 71 of 134 species are associated with IAS. No country can solve this issue on its own; tackling invasive species requires cooperation between countries and a common set of rules.
An EU-wide response was long overdue, and in 2014 the conservation community welcomed the adoption of the EU Regulation 1143/2014 on the prevention and management of the introduction and spread of invasive alien species (IAS). This could arguably be the single most important policy measure taken by the European Union to meet the EU Biodiversity Strategy 2020 target 5 on invasive alien species and CBD (Convention on Biological Diversity) Aichi target 9.
However, this is unlikely to be the case because of the length of the proposed EU list of IAS – an unacceptable 37 species that include the Ruddy Duck, Sacred Ibis, North American Bullfrog, Raccoon and five species of crayfish but exclude parakeets, Canada Goose and many species of terrestrial and aquatic plants.
In Europe, invasive species have significantly reduced seabird populations on islands and have altered freshwater ecosystems, among other impacts. BirdLife Europe took part in the process leading to the adoption of the regulation, influencing the text and successfully managing – with help from other NGOs and the scientific community – to remove the 50 species cap on the list, as well as to establish a scientific forum for more evidence-based decision-making.
It would now appear that those efforts proved inconsequential, since less than 50 species have been proposed.
The proposed list fails to focus on prevention (species which are either absent from Europe or in the very early stages make up only 3 of the 37 species proposed), it does not address some of the main pathways for species to spread (there are no marine species on the list) and it fails to tackle the most widely-spread species on the basis of economic arguments. Economic estimates do not include the cost of inaction and the huge financial burden (amounting to billions of euros) being transferred to future generations of humanity.
Recently, a European Council-funded horizon scanning exercise (an examination of potential future problematic species) by a group of scientists identified 95 marine, terrestrial and freshwater species, absent or in the early stages of invasion, but considered as very high or high priority for risk assessment. They range from aquatic invertebrates to lionfish, and from mynas to coatis. These species represent the most threatening new IAS and should be proposed for the list by the Commission or the Member States as soon as possible.
A similar initiative led by BirdLife Europe used a systematic approach to prioritise species for risk assessment based on their potential impact on biodiversity, related ecosystem services and the history of their presence in Europe. It identified 200 species as very high priority for urgent risk assessment and 326 as requiring risk assessment to be completed before the review of the regulation in June 2021. Our list includes species like the American Mink, several mongooses, snakes and other reptiles, the Australian Magpie, several parakeets, ants and a long list of terrestrial and aquatic plants. Marine taxa make up about one in 10 species on our list.
The results of this work have been submitted for publication in a scientific journal, which will be a useful advocacy tool when it is available.
There are sufficient scientific grounds for the Commission to be more proactive and to focus on prevention. The positive impact of the IAS regulation will depend on the length, comprehensiveness and preventive character of the list of invasive alien species.
If it does not happen, this will not only be a missed opportunity to make a difference and to save the economy billions of euros, but it will also effectively result in the EU deviating from its 2020 Biodiversity Strategy and Aichi targets.
Follow Carles Carboneras on Twitter @carbonectrix