Open letter of ProGEO addressed to:
Mr. Karmenu Vella
Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries
Mr. Giovanni La Via
Chair of the European Parliament's ENVI Committee
Mr. Hans Bruyninckx
Executive Director, European Environment Agency
The common EU legislative framework that sets the standards for nature protection across European Member States is provided by two main pieces of legislation that are undergoing a Fitness Check. The European Association for the Conservation of the Geological Heritage – ProGEO and many of its individual and institutional members have participated in the public consultation trying to demonstrate that having the whole EU nature protection legislation based only in Birds and Habitats Directives is putting at risk a crucial part of European nature: the geological heritage that records Europe’s evolution, and the geodiversity that underpins its biodiversity.
What is exactly the problem?
Present EU nature legislation does not truly cover all types of natural elements that are under threat and which need to be properly managed.
Natural heritage includes both biological and geological heritage. The latter is made up of geological sites of interest, as well as landscapes that are shaped and defined by their geological features. Fossils, rocks, minerals, landforms and geological structures are just as much part of nature as plants and animals. These geological features also include major scientific assets shared by all countries, as well as educational and cultural resources, and thus need to be preserved and properly managed as geological heritage, part of our natural heritage.
In addition, geodiversity assures fundamental support services to biodiversity, and contributes significantly to ecosystem services. EU nature conservation legislation is currently primarily focused on the conservation of biodiversity. Its implementation will be strengthened, and aided by a wider perspective including the conservation of geodiversity.
To some degree, geodiversity should already be included, as it is fundamental to ecosystem functions and services, but the implementation of the Birds and Habitats Directives is not clear, and in part ignorant, with respect to the abiotic aspect of nature.
The two “nature” Directives, as implemented today, restrict the social perspective of what is nature and which parts of it deserve to be preserved for the future, making it difficult to properly manage geoheritage under the current framework.
A clearer Directive’s text in this regard and its stronger implementation will contribute to a better and holistic approach to nature conservation. Without it, the degradation of an important part of Europe’s natural heritage – the geoheritage – will continue, and geosites of importance to future European generations will be lost.
Proper conservation and management of geoheritage and geodiversity will also benefit biodiversity and increase its resilience. Both are fully compatible, and nature and society will benefit of such an approach. Rec(2004)3 of the Council of Europe, and Resolution 5.048 of IUCN (Jeju, 2012) promote this holistic view of nature conservation. European states should abide to these international regulations and support the ideal of a holistic approach to nature conservation.
ProGEO wants to stress the importance of inclusive strategies to guarantee the conservation of geological heritage in EU nature legislation. At the international level, UNESCO has now two instruments to recognise geological heritage: (a) the integration of geosites in the World Heritage List when “outstanding universal value” is fully justified (criterion viii of the WH convention); (b) recognition of a territory as UNESCO Global Geopark based on geosites with geological significance at the regional international level.
However, there is not a single EU mechanism to protect these (and many others) exceptional occurrences. Therefore, we urge the EU to implement a solid nature protection legislation that integrates both biodiversity and geodiversity, and considers geoheritage as part of natural heritage. Any other way forward is actually a step back.
December 28th, 2015