THE CONCEPT OF ECOSYSTEM SERVICES AS A TOOL FOR THE SUSTAINABLE AND EQUITABLE REGIONAL DEVELOPMENT OF THE BALKANS
Being positioned at the crossroads of central Europe and Asia Minor, the Balkan Peninsula has high biodiversity values and is home to many species and taxa. It has the greatest richness of flora and fauna in Europe and an exceptional number of endemic and relict species. Biodiversity in the Balkans is under pressure by a range of environmental threats, both historical and contemporary as well as by future trends. Biodiversity in the Balkans is threatened by pressures to and pollution of air, water and soil as well as by illegal logging, overfishing, poaching and the effects of climate change. Furthermore, landscapes face fragmentation caused by a range of human activities such as industry, agriculture, energy production, infrastructure and
transport, etc. At the same time, society increases its demands for natural resources. Overall, there is a lack of adequate adoption and application of cross sector environmental policies, regulations and standards. Environmental enforcement is poor and the institutional and regulatory framework as well as harmonization with international and EU policies and standards remain lagging and inadequate, in both EU and non-EU member states (MS) in the Balkans. Conservation efforts have had success to some extend but overall, biodiversity is under threat in the Balkans. What further exacerbates the situation is a general lack of awareness and appreciation at all levels of governance, as well as within the general population, of the values of biodiversity to society. What is needed, is an approach that ensures sustainable and equitable regional development while securing the preservation and conservation of biodiversity. The concept of ecosystem services is an approach that could provide a role in the region’s sustainable use and management of natural areas and natural resources.