WHY is tackling INVASIVE ALIEN SPECIES important?
Invasive alien species pose a considerable threat to Europe’s biodiversity. They have the potential to cause the extinction of native species and upend the harmony of entire ecosystems. Occasionally, IAS may precipitate a major economic downturn by damaging infrastructure, obstructing transportation, or diminishing agriculture, forestry, and fishery yields.
And that still doesn’t address how some species induce serious health problems in humans and animals, e.g. allergies and disease transmission. That issue alone has cost the European economy a cautious estimate of 12 billion - and that number will grow exponentially.
The number of IAS entering Europe shows no sign of letting up, and, on arrival, they spread rapidly. Consequently, it should come as no surprise that costs are predicted to rise proportionately. What’s more, costs skyrocket exponentially for invasive alien species that are not dealt with immediately. And climate change? That’s only likely to further exacerbate the situation in the near future.
TACKLING THE PROBLEM AT EU LEVEL
Invasive alien species are oblivious to administrative borders. Once they’ve gained a foothold in one country – no matter how tenuous – a species can easily and organically spread to neighbouring countries. Alternatively, sometimes people deliberately or accidentally ferry them across country lines. And to complicate things further, not all neighbouring countries take the same prevention and control measures, undermining Belgium’s national efforts. In short – a unified European strategy is a must.
And that’s the logic behind the European Commission’s new legislation on invasive alien species. It establishes an EU-wide framework to prevent, limit, and mitigate potential harm by IAS.
Want to know more? Read the European Commission’s Invasive Alien Species brochure.
SPECIES OF UNION CONCERN
The core focus of Regulation (EU) No 1143/2014 on Invasive Alien Species is the ‘Union List’, or the Invasive Alien Species of Union Concern List. This dynamic list is regularly amended and updated comprehensively at least once every six years. The European Commission and Member States can propose adding new species to the list. Proposals must be substantiated by a risk assessment. Among others, this assessment describes how the IAS was introduced, its likelihood of establishment, and how it could affect biodiversity and related ecosystem services, as well as human health, safety, and the economy.
Risk assessments are then submitted to the Scientific Forum, which is made up of scientific community representatives appointed by the Member States. For instance, Belgium’s representative is an expert from the Belgian Biodiversity Platform. The Scientific Forum evaluates the risk assessment based on an agreed procedure and standards. Afterwards, the IAS Committee, made up of Member State representatives, discusses whether the proposed species complies with the inclusion criteria under Article 4.3 of the IAS Regulation. The Union List is only updated if the IAS Committee issues a favourable opinion as the outcome of a qualified majority vote.
Visit this site to learn more about the process, from proposal to potential inclusion on the Union List.
The EU IAS Regulation relies on three types of measures to handle species of Union concern. These are listed by order of priority below:
- Prevention: If you weigh the costs and benefits, then preventing IAS from making it onto European soil in the first place is always preferable to taking remedial measures. And it’s for this reason that the Regulation’s first pillar is prevention. This pillar covers measures related to the various routes by which invasive alien species are introduced and spread by people – intentionally and unintentionally.
For example, the Regulation bans the trade, use, transportation, breeding, possession, and release of the listed species. In exceptional cases, concessions are granted, but these are subject to extremely strict conditions imposed by an authorisation or a license system.
The Regulation also requires Member States to thoroughly analyse how IAS are introduced to and spread throughout their territory. That allows each Member State to identify national priority pathways. Next, the Member States must draw up related action plans with concrete measures that limit or hinder those pathways.
- Early warning and rapid response: The second pillar is early detection and rapid eradication. In addition to the established official controls for identifying and detecting IAS of Union Concern on EU entry, Member States are also required to establish a surveillance system. This system collects and records data about these species on their territory.
Plus, the system must detect an IAS as quickly as possible. If an IAS of Union concern makes its debut on the Member State’s territory – or after resighting – the European Commission and other Member States must be notified. Consequently, the Member State concerned must immediately act to eradicate the species. Again, this obligation can be waived if certain conditions are met.
- Management of widespread species: The Regulation’s last pillar deals with already well-established and widespread species. It focuses on minimising their effect on biodiversity, human health, and the economy. To this end, every country must attempt to eradicate, contain, or control these widespread populations. And equally important, these Member States must work to restore habitats damaged or destroyed by IAS.
Want to know more?
Read Regulation (EU) No 1143/2014 on Invasive Alien Species in full here.
Four bodies support the European Commission with the Regulation’s implementation.
- The Committee on Invasive Alien Species (IAS Committee) consists of representatives of all Member States. It is charged with coordinating political resolutions and votes. To assist the Commission, the IAS Committee helps implement IUS Regulation-related acts, mainly by amending and updating the Invasive Alien Species of Union Concern List. The Committee passes resolutions by a qualified majority.
- The Invasive Alien Species Expert group is made up of representatives of all Member States and deals with discussion items not addressed by the Union List procedure.
- The Scientific Forum on IAS comprises scientific community representatives appointed by the Member States. It provides advice on scientific issues related to the IAS Regulation’s implementation and – in particular – evaluates risk assessments.
- The Working Group on IAS is comprised of relevant and interested stakeholders. It assists the Commission and facilitates coordination with national and EU stakeholders involved in the IAS question.