Report 2020

Poland on the way to SDGs
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Goal 15. Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss

Biodiversity of terrestrial ecosystems in the world

Almost a third of the Earth’s surface is land. In order to retain and strengthen its natural qualities, the Key Biodiversity Areas – KBAs are established, with leading role of International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Some of these areas are protected by local legal regulations. Since 2000, the total share of protected terrestrial key areas in the world has increased from 30% to 44%. The growth has been observed in all regions, but most notably in Europe (where the area of key biodiversity areas is currently protected the most - in 66% compared to 45% in 2000) and in North Africa (35% against 14%). The smallest l area of KBAs are is protected in Central Asia (13%) and Western Asia (17%). In Poland, there are 175 areas regarded by international organisations of key importance to retaining the world’s biodiversity. Most of such terrestrial areas in Poland (87%) are protected. The extent of this protection has increased considerably since Poland’s joining the EU and the Natura 2000 programme (before 2004, only slightly over 51% of Key Biodiversity Areas in Poland were preserved).

Average proportion of terrestrial Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs) covered by protected areas (%)

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2000 2019
WORLD 30.1 43.7
Northern Africa 13.9 34.9
Sub-Saharan Africa 31.6 41.0
Eastern Asia 18.5 26.2
Central Asia 11.6 12.6
Southern Asia 23.9 28.1
South-Eastern Asia 21.7 35.6
Western Asia 7.9 17.0
EUROPE 44.9 65.6
Poland 51.3 87.3
Latin America and the Caribbean 25.5 38.0
Northern America 30.7 41.4
OCEANIA 22.0 33.7

Currently, forest areas constitute approximately 31% of the total land on Earth (which marks a slight fall compared to 2000, when over 32% of the global land was covered by forests), of which 93% are natural forests, and 7% have been forested artificially. Russia can boast the largest forests in the world – they account for 20% of all the forest areas in the world. Forests in Brazil (the world’s largest rainforest) constitute 12% of the global forest areas, forests in Canada – 9%, forests in the United States – 8%, and forests in China – 5%. Since 2000, the world’s total forest area has shrunk by 2.4% (or by 99 million hectares), most notably in Latin America and the Caribbean (by 83 million hectares, so 8% of all the forests of that region) and sub-Saharan Africa (by 71 million hectares, i.e. 10.4% of all the forests there). Deforestation in the World has been slowing down: in 1990-2000 decade on average 7.8 million hectares of forests were lost, in 2000-2010 decade – 5.2 million hectares, and in current (2010-2020) – 4.7 million hectares.

Forests are natural habitat for most land fauna and flora in the world, and at the same time constitute the world’s largest reservoir of land biodiversity. Approximately 18% of all forests in the world are situated in legally protected areas (14% in 2000). Most forest areas protected by law are in Africa and Asia, where 26% of forest area is protected (of which 59% in Central Asia). A considerable part of forests is also situated in legally protected areas in, America (21%), and Oceania (16%). Europe, of all regions, has the smallest percentage of forests on legally-protected areas: 5% (of which 3% in Eastern Europe).

Share of forest land in land area (%)

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2000 2018
WORLD 32.2 31.2
AFRICA 24.9 21.6
ASIA 18.9 19.9
EUROPE 45.4 45.9
AMERICA 43.3 41.4
OCEANIA 21.6 21.8

Since 1964, the International Union for Conservation of Nature has been keeping a ‘Red List’, which serves the purpose of assessing the risk of extinction of species, and is the main source of information on the advancement of their protection across the globe. Gradually extended list includes about 120 thousand species of animals, fungi, corals and plants (of which about 32 thousand are endangered of extinction), and will probably have grown to 160 thousand species by the end of 2020. The Red List Index is calculated on the basis of data on over 20 thousand species. It takes values from 1 to 0, where 1 indicates a minimal probability that a given species will become extinct in the near future, and 0 means that all the species have become extinct. The Red List Index has decreased from 0.80 to 0.73 since 2000, which means that the risk of losing biodiversity on a global scale has increased. The situation has deteriorated in all regions, but not to the same extent. The indicator has fallen the most in Southern and South-Eastern Asia, where its values, at 0.67 and 0.72, respectively, signal the greatest threat of species becoming extinct. Species in sub-Saharan Africa, Eastern Asia and in Latin America and the Caribbean are threatened with extinction to a similar degree as the former; on the other hand, those in Central Asia, where the indicator is 0.93, are least threatened with extinction. In Poland there are many observed species of plants and animals (e.g. chamois, European bison, wolves, grouse or black grouse – all of which are under strict protection). However, according to the Red List Index, the probability of their extinction is relatively low, and, in contrast to general trends in the world’s regions, it has decreased compared to 2000 (the Red List Index for Poland has improved from 0.95 to 0.97 in this period).

Proportion of forest area within legally established protected areas (%)

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2000 2020
WORLD 14.2 17.9
AFRICA 23.4 25.7
Northern Africa 12.5 18.8
Sub-Saharan Africa 23.9 26.1
ASIA 19.6 25.8
Eastern Asia 8.3 14.6
Central Asia 29.5 58.8
Southern Asia 19.4 24.5
South-Eastern Asia 32.8 38.8
Western Asia 30.1 33.0
EUROPE 3.1 4.5
Northern Europe 7.5 10.4
Southern Europe 21.7 26.8
Eastern Europe 2.1 3.2
Western Europe 18.9 29.9
AMERICA 15.9 20.8
Latin America and the Caribbean 25.0 31.3
Northern America 5.9 9.3
OCEANIA 12.5 16.1

Protection of Polish land areas

About 10 million hectares of the territory of Poland, i.e. 33% of the country’s total area, is legally preserved. A large part of these territories is protected in the framework of the Natura 2000 European Ecological Network, which is the European Union’s response to the global-reach Convention on Biological Diversity (also: the Rio Convention). The objective of the Natura 2000 programme is to save valuable natural habitats and protect rare or endangered species of plants and animals living in the territory of the European Union. The programme operates on the basis of two documents: the Birds Directive (on the conservation of wild birds) and the Habitats Directive (on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora). The area covered by the Natura 2000 programme constitutes 18% of the total territory of the EU. Slovenia, Croatia, Bulgaria and Slovakia are those EU member states whose share of territories protected by the Natura 2000 is the largest (30%-38% of the total land territories of these countries are covered by the programme). In the case of Poland, it is 20% of its total land area, i.e. 61,000 km2, which places the country 3rd among the EU member states with the largest total area falling under the Natura 2000 programme. Poland is preceded only by Spain and France in this respect. Some Polish landscape parks and all national parks, including Białowieża National Park (the only Polish natural object on the UNESCO World Heritage List, which has been there for 40 years now), are covered by the Natura 2000.

Structure of the area of special nature value legally protected in Poland (%)

Since 2005 within the legally protected areas is included this part of Natura 2000 sites which is located within their boundaries.
In the scope of landscape parks and protected landscape areas excluding nature reserves and other forms of nature protection (documentation sites, ecological areas and landscape-nature complexes).

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national parks 3.1
nature reserves 1.7
landscape parks 24.7
protected landscape areas 68.7
ecological areas and documentation sites 0.5
landscape-nature complexes 1.2

Biodiversity in Poland

Poland is a country of outstanding beauty and variety in its natural landscapes, with plains, highlands, mountains and a sea coast. Polish natural environment is characterized by high biodiversity, which results from the fact that a relatively large part of the country’s territory is covered by forests (Polish forests account for 6% of all EU forest areas). Forests are the natural habitat for 65% of all the animal and plant species living in Poland. Currently, a slightly larger part of the country is covered with forests than in 2000 (31% of the total land area compared to 30% in 2000). Similar trends have been observed in the whole EU, where at present, forests account for 38% of the total area, compared to 37% in 2000. However, most Polish forests (over 77%) are human-planted, unlike in the EU, where such forests constitute only 34% of all forest areas. Almost all Polish forests (97% now compared to 92% in 2010) are managed sustainably, i.e. are covered by approved forest management plans.

Share of terrestrial area of Natura 2000 in land area in Poland (%)

Areas of SPAs and SACs can overlap with each other and with other forms of nature protection, either in part or in whole.

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2005 2019
special protection areas (SPAs) 7.8 15.7
special areas of conservation (SACs ) 3.8 11.2

Condition of Polish forests

Year by year, less and less land is being planted with new forest (in 2000, it was 23,000 hectares, and in 2018 only 1,000 hectares). One of the factors contributing to this decline are changes in the criteria for designating private arable land to the forest-planting purposes in the framework of the 2007-2013 Rural Development Programme.

Since 1989, the health condition of Polish trees has been assessed in the framework of the Forest Monitoring Programme. Its results indicate that most trees in Polish forests are aged 41-80 years. They cover 44% of the total area occupied by Polish forests. The health condition of Polish trees, evaluated on the basis of the degree of the tree top defoilation, is now slightly better than two decades ago. 88% of trees in Polish forests are damaged, which is just slightly less than in 2000 (89%). The percentage of trees with medium to large damages, i.e. those whose defoliation exceeds 25%, has decreased considerably since 2000 (from 32% to 18%), whereas the percentage of trees slightly damaged, i.e. those with defoliation level of 11-25%, has increased (from 58% in 2000 to 70% at present).

Share of forest land in land area (%)

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2000 2018
PL 29.6 30.9
EU 36.5 38.2

Factors affecting biodiversity of soil

One of the main reservoirs of biodiversity is soil. Its degradation is thus dangerous for the natural environment. This negative process takes place due to phenomena such as sealing soil with water-tight materials, e.g. glass, asphalt, concrete or plastic. This is one of the effects of urbanisation and construction (including expanding road and railway infrastructure). Soil sealed loses its retention capabilities as a result of the inability to fully absorb water. 1.4% of the Polish soil area is currently sealed (compared to 1.3% in 2006), which constitutes 5.8% of all such soil in the EU. Another phenomenon negatively affecting the quality of soil is deep erosion, which currently threatens the biodiversity of 1.14% of Polish soil (so slightly more than at the beginning of the decade, when it was 1.09%). In Poland, deep soil erosion leads to the annual loss of 16.2 tonnes of soil per hectare (compared to 15.9 tonnes in 2010). This is a smaller figure, though, than the EU average, which is nearly 20 tonnes of soil per hectare a year.

Soil sealing index (2006=100)

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2009 2012 2015
PL 101.8 105.5 108.7
EU 101.7 103.3 104.2

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Poland on the way to SDGs
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