This is reported in a briefing by the European Environment Agency, which also calculates the return on investment for terrestrial ecosystems: every euro spent guarantees an economic return of between 8 and 38 euros
by Matteo Cavallito
Restoring Europe‘s environment would translate into improved human health and climate mitigation and would also have an enormous economic value. This is the message of the European Environment Agency (EEA) in a briefing released in recent months.
At the moment, however, the Brussels-based organisation says, “A lack of ecosystem restoration combined with human pressures such as pollution, land degradation and resource overuse is significantly stressing nature in Europe.” The overall context, in short, remains problematic.
A critical picture
Globally, the Agency explains, 75 per cent of the landmass and 66 per cent of the oceans are now severely altered by human activities. The situation is no better for areas under protection which, despite the regulations designed to preserve them, are in most cases in a critical condition. In the EU, in particular, 81% of habitats and 63% of protected species are in poor or very poor condition.
“While protected areas make up 26% of land and 12% of sea area in the EU, these alone have not been sufficient enough to reverse nature’s decline,” the EEA explains.
This general lack of capacity is due to the isolation of these areas and the shortage of resources to ensure comprehensive protection of ecosystems. In Europe, the agency continues, “it is estimated that the area of protected habitats in need of restoration is at least 259,000 km2, around half the size of terrestrial Spain. Other areas, such as the habitats of certain specific species, are also in need of restoration to stop declining biodiversity.”
Restoration of the environment pays off up to 38 times the investment
Soil, as is well known, is also a special target. Today, degradation, at different levels, affects 60 to 70 per cent of EU soils. In the European Continent, in particular, there are an estimated 2.8 million contaminated sites. While for 65-75% of agricultural soils, nutrient inputs reach levels that create possible eutrophication and affect biodiversity. The restoration of soils and their ecosystems is, in short, more necessary than ever. But the restoration of wilderness areas, the Agency further observes, does not only offer advantages on a strictly environmental level. Impressive, in fact, are also the favourable economic benefits.
“The monetary benefits of restoring a broad range of EU peatlands, marshlands, forests, heathland and scrub, grasslands, rivers, lakes, alluvial habitats and coastal wetlands are estimated to reach around 1,860 billion EUR,” says the EEA. All this, it should be noted, comes at relatively small costs estimated at “around 154 billion EUR.”
The cost/benefit balance is not the only issue at stake. Even more relevant, in proportion, is in fact the expected profitability of the investment. According to Brussels, in detail, “investment in nature restoration provides a return of between 8 EUR and 38 EUR for every 1 EUR spent, owing to the broader benefits delivered through ecosystem services that support food security, human health and well-being, and climate mitigation and adaptation.”
Health, climate and food security at stake
It is no coincidence, therefore, that the Environment Agency defines the restoration of natural habitats as a “public health intervention.” At stake, the EU emphasises, is the protection of genetic resources that could be used in the pharmaceutical and clinical fields and that have yet to be discovered. Not to mention the positive link between environmental remediation and the reduction of the risk of the spread of diseases and the phenomena of species hopping of pathogens, a dynamic that is at the root of epidemics.
Also crucial is the issue of food safety, which is strongly linked to the health of the environment as implicitly demonstrated by the widespread dependence on insect pollination services that, in various ways, affect 84% of crops.
Finally, the climate change: the impact of global warming is now evident in the increased frequency and scale of extreme events such as floods, heat waves and storms, the EEA emphasises. In this context, on the other hand, the protection and development of forests, peatlands and grasslands would increase carbon sequestration, a key resource for achieving long-term climate neutrality goals in the EU.