For even though we are not always aware of it, mankind benefits from the immense services freely provided by ecosystems. This is the source from which we draw our food, as well as fuel and building materials. Apart from these “appropriable” goods, biodiversity enables the purification of water, climate stabilisation and moderation, and the regulation of floods, droughts and epidemics. In short, biodiversity is vital for us. Yet, throughout the world, an increasingly rapid rate of decline in biodiversity has been observed for several decades, giving rise to fears of serious upheavals in our environment.
Responsibility for this decline falls, in the first place, to mankind, which is also a potential victim thereof. The principal factors of deterioration of natural habitats originate from human activity: the increasing sealing of soils, which roads, car parks and airports cover with waterproof surfaces; the fragmentation of terrestrial habitats caused by transport infrastructures and the intensification of agricultural practices; the overexploitation of renewable natural sources and, at the forefront, fishing stocks and freshwater; pollution by nitrates, pesticides and other heavy metals; the introduction of invasive exotic species and climate change etc.
So many pressures that are progressively reducing biodiversity. All, or almost all, of the sectors of our economy are concerned: industry, agriculture, drilling and quarrying activities, transport, tourism, housing, local recreational activities, etc. Although all have already undertaken significant efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, initiatives with regard to the preservation of biodiversity continue to lag behind.
It is the duty of the authorities to contribute to bridging this gap. Moreover, they have a field of investigation at their disposal that is still little explored: with a view to both virtue and effectiveness, they are able to closely scrutinise all public subsidies which, due to their side-effects or pernicious results, may prove harmful to the maintenance of biodiversity. A change of this kind was judged to be a priority by the Convention on Biological Diversity held in Nagoya in 2010. In its communication of 20 September 2011, the European Commission also calls for the adoption of the “phasing-out”, by 2020, of “environmentally harmful subsidies”, “with due regard to the impact on people in need”. At the national level, this objective is included among the undertakings made at the time of the “Grenelle de l’environnement” (the French national consultation process on environment) and in the National Strategy for Biodiversity presented by the Minister of Ecology on 19 May 2011.
This provides the context for the proceedings of the working group chaired by Guillaume Sainteny. The group of experts was assigned the task of listing subsidies for which a proven causal link with the decline of biodiversity can be shown to exist, and to propose possible courses of reform.
I would like to extend my warm thanks to the Chairman and to all of the members of the mission who took up this vast and complex task. Firstly, because public incentives originate from many different sources – the State, regional authorities, Europe – and are also diverse in nature – they may involve subsidies, tax expenditure and extensions or partial application of regulations, etc. Secondly, and above all, because it is not always easy to prove their impact upon biodiversity, and still less to assess it.
The working group has the merit of having opened up numerous possible courses of reform, with regard to both general guidelines and concrete, achievable short-term recommendations. Each of the latter oblige public decision-makers to change their outlook, and raise the question of the difficulty of reconciling the defence of biodiversity with economic and social imperatives. We may therefore be sure that this work, which follows on from the reference report of Bernard Chevassus-au-Louis on the value of biodiversity , will provide material for numerous debates and reforms in the coming years.
- Chairman: Guillaume Sainteny
- Vice-Chairman: Jean-Michel Salles
- Rapporteurs: Peggy Duboucher, Géraldine Ducos, Vincent Marcus et Erwan Paul
- Coordinators: Dominique Auverlot et Jean-Luc Pujol