May 6th, 2019
Ireland has seen a spike in the number of citizens who view man-made disasters as a threat to biodiversity, a new EU survey has found.
The new Eurobarometer survey of EU citizens’ attitudes towards biodiversity reveals that there is generally high awareness of the range of threats to biodiversity.
According to survey respondents, the EU’s biodiversity priorities should include the restoration of nature and better public awareness raising campaigns about the importance of biodiversity.
The survey follows on from a previous survey conducted in 2015 in order to gauge any changes in citizens’ awareness of biodiversity and the biggest threats facing it.
The biggest perceived threats to biodiversity mentioned by EU citizens are air, soil and water pollution, man-made disasters and climate change.
The survey results indicate that the numbers of people that say man-made disasters are very much a threat to biodiversity have increased in 18 countries.
Ireland (92 per cent) shows the largest increase in the proportion that say man-made disasters pose some kind of threat to biodiversity.
Ireland has also seen one of the largest increases – up by six percentage points to 76 per cent – in the proportion of respondents who “totally agree” with the statement that “we have a responsibility to look after nature”.
The understanding of the meaning of the term biodiversity has also increased since 2015, with over 71 per cent of Europeans surveyed stating that they are aware of the term biodiversity.
Over two-thirds of respondents consider that nature protection areas are very important in protecting endangered animals and plants.
In addition, 45 per cent consider that economic developments which cause damage to nature in protected areas should be prohibited outright.
An additional 45 per cent found that damage is only acceptable for projects of major public interest and where the damage is fully compensated through mitigation measures.
Europeans awareness of the Natura 2000 network of protected sites is lacking, however, according to the survey results.
Awareness is particularly low in Ireland, with 82 per cent of people surveyed stating that they have never heard of the network.
‘Unprecedented’ rate of extinction
The survey results were released just hours prior to the launch of a landmark global assessment has found that one million animal and plant species are now threatened with extinction and declining at rates unprecedented in human history.
The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) assessment warns that the accelerating rate of species extinction presents “grave impacts” for people across the world.
According to the report, more than 40 per cent of amphibian species, over 30 per cent of reef forming corals and over a third of all marine mammals are under threat.
In addition, 75 per cent of the land-based environment and two-thirds of the marine environment have been significantly altered by human action.
EU needs ‘biodiversity rethink’
The assessment builds on IPBES regional assessments released in March 2018. The European assessment also found that 66 per cent of European habitats now has “unfavourable conservation status” and may become worse under a “business as usual scenario”.
This is where common pressures such as the unsustainable use of natural resources, land and water pollution and climate change continue at current or increased rates.
Speaking at Ireland’s first national biodiversity conference in February, the head of the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) Dr Ciaran O’Keefe said that we have to wake up to the fact that biodiversity decline is already impacting a range of species and habitats here at home in Ireland.
In Ireland, one in every four of the 3,000 species that have undergone a red-list conservation assessment is threatened with extinction in Ireland.
In addition, over 90 per cent of 58 listed habitats in Ireland have an ‘inadequate’ or ‘bad’ status and just over half of the 61 European protected species in Ireland have a ‘favourable’ conservation status.