February 7th 2024

Biodiversity trends - some progress a lot to do

Global biodiversity - where are we?

According to the IUCN, “biodiversity plays a critical role for human health and well-being, economic prosperity, food safety and security, and other important areas necessary for the individual and collective wellness of all human societies. Healthy ecosystems provide clean air, support food security, grant humans and wildlife access to freshwater, and support all of our livelihoods”. In other words human beings will not survive without respecting and taking care of it.

Data points 

Close to 15% of the Earth's land and 10% of its territorial waters are covered by national parks and other protected areas;

Coverage of marine protected areas increased by almost 300% in the last decade; 

Eight in 10 key biodiversity areas worldwide lack complete protection but crucial biodiversity zones are still left out (IUCN, 2016).

The target for terrestrial areas falls just short of the 17% 2020 target set by the UN Convention on Biodiversity (Aichi targets). But according to the IUCN, the last decade has seen remarkable progress in protecting the world's oceans. The size of marine protected areas has increased from just over 4 million in 2006 to nearly 15 million square kilometers today, covering four per cent of the Earth's oceans, an area almost the size of Russia. But for all the growth in coverage, much remains to be done to improve the quality of protected areas.

The IUCN and other conservation bodies have noted a number of issues which need to be addressed to ensure that global biodiversity commitments are met and that species and habitats can be sustained. These include:

  • Increasing the percentage of areas of importance for biodiversity that are strictly protected - currently less than 20% of the world's key biodiversity areas are completely covered by protected areas
  • Improving effective management of sites and areas. The IUCN have noted that less than 20% of countries have met their commitments to assess the management of their protected areas, raising questions about the quality and effectiveness of existing conservation measures
  • Providing investment, finance and training for protected areas. This is particularly important if countries and regions are ensuring sustainable management of fisheries, control invasive species, cope with climate change and reduce harmful incentives, such as subsidies, which threaten biodiversity.

What about the EU?

Data points 

EU Long-term monitoring of common birds in 25 EU Member States by the EEA shows significant population declines, particularly in farmland birds, with no signs of recovery. Between 1990 and 2019, the common bird index declined by 8%;

The decline in common farmland birds was much more pronounced, at 27%; while the common forest bird index increased by 5%.

EU Biodiversity Strategy 2030 

The EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 sets the target of legally protecting a minimum of 30% of EU land and sea. In 2021, 26.4% of EU land was protected, with 18.5% of this area designated as Natura 2000 sites and 7.9% having other national designations, representing over 100,000 sites in total.

Despite the efforts made by Member States, experts say the current network of legally protected sites is not sufficiently large to safeguard biodiversity and further expansion will be needed, both for Natura 2000 and for other national designations in order to reach the 2030 EU Biodiversity target of 30%.

However, the designation of protected areas is not in itself a guarantee of biodiversity protection. These areas need active management to maintain and enhance their conservation status. Without active management, there is the real risk of deterioration and even encroachment by human activities. The current controversy over the Andalusian government´s attempt to regularize illegal strawberry farming on the edges of the Coto Doñana - a UN Biosphere reserve and Natura 2000 site is a case in point.

The EEA, in a recent report, notes that the EU currently lacks comprehensive information on how effectively Natura 2000 sites are managed.

In addition, protected areas in the EU can no longer be managed as isolated units but need to be understood as part of a wider Trans-European network, as emphasised in the EU’s biodiversity strategy. This requires an ecologically coherent network that ensures both spatial and functional connectivity within countries and across borders, aided by natural capital investments, among other things.


On paper, the global and EU efforts on conservation of important land and marine area appear to be on track in terms of area of land to be designated or protected. However, the positive general trend masks a range of issues and challenges ranging from climate change to habitat loss (e.g. human encroachment, land use change). To help manage and address these issues, the public policy response needs to double down on addressing the lack of finance, staff, staff training and enforcement of legal protections for sites and species. Raising the profile of biodiversity in terms of a policy priority would greatly help here, particularly in regional contexts such as in the EU, Africa, Asia and South America.