Is Biodiversity Falling off the Research Radar?

Following the results of the consultation on the Green Paper on a Common Strategic Framework for future EU Research and Innovation Funding it has become clear that many researchers in ecology have been left feeling that biodiversity research is falling off the radar.

The Green Paper, published in February this year was designed to spark debate about research funding to inform the Horizon 2020 strategy which will replace the Framework Programme for research, the Competitiveness and Innovation Programme, and the European Institute of Innovation and Technology after the next EU budget in 2013.
Evidence was gathered in five main areas:
1. Working together to deliver on Europe 2020
2. Tackling societal challenges
3. Strengthening competitiveness
4. Strengthening Europe’s science base and the European Research Area
5. Public debate and further steps

Despite biodiversity loss being a major societal challenge it was not mentioned at all in the Green Paper, and there was no mention of funding research to help meet the 2020 biodiversity targets. This was noted by a variety of organisations including the French government, Defra, NERC and WWF Europe. Many were dismayed that biodiversity research had been omitted when biodiversity loss is such a pressing issue with a great deal of public interest.

Several organisations emphasised the need for biodiversity and ecosystem related research to be one of the main research priorities for the EU, as large scale projects with international collaboration are needed. The European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures noted that long term investment by the EU is needed for novel technologies (such as remote sensing) to monitor biodiversity, as well as investment in technology to utilise the massive quantities of environmental data that are accumulating.

Despite the omission of biodiversity loss from the Green Paper there were some indications in the European Commission’s initial analysis that they intend to develop an international collaboration strategy which will be valuable for the field of biodiversity research.

Concerns that biodiversity is falling off the radar have been reflected in the recent failure of EU member states to endorse the 20 concrete measures proposed by the EU executive to implement the six headline targets that will allow the 2020 biodiversity target to be achieved. Some countries including Denmark and Italy have refused to endorse the six headline targets because of the perceived high financial cost of protecting biodiversity. Many of the member states said they require more time to consider the measures and emphasised the need to learn from the mistakes of the 2010 targets, which failed mainly because the EU never really agreed on how best to achieve the goals and how to finance them.

Public interest in biodiversity issues may also be declining. Googletrends has shown that the number of times the word biodiversity has been searched has declined from 2004 to the present day, whilst searches for ecosystem services continue to increase.

Whether biodiversity research gets the funding it needs from the European Commission in Horizon 2020 remains to be seen.