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LIFE programme

Q&A on the LIFE programme (December 2011)

The Commission has adopted a proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on the establishment of a Programme for the Environment and Climate Action (LIFE). The proposal is part of the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) for 2014-2020 which sets out the budgetary framework and main orientations for delivering Europe 2020 strategy (the "MFF Communication").

Why a new LIFE programme?

The main objective of the LIFE Programme is to improve the implementation of EU environment and climate policy and legislation. This requires significant financial resources (total environmental costs represent around 5.7 % of EU GDP).
Environment and climate activities are supported through all major EU funding programmes, but these do not address all environmental and climate needs.

Evaluations of the current LIFE Programme show that a specific instrument for environment and climate has significant added value. LIFE helps coordinate various sources of funding for environment and climate action, and fills gaps by addressing environmental issues that are not dealt with by other EU Funds. It also helps find solutions to environmental and climate challenges faced by all sectors of society, and it provides a platform to discuss easy and cost-efficient ways of implementing EU environmental and climate legislation by both the public and private sectors.

What are the new elements in the new LIFE programme as compared to the past?

The new LIFE Programme will build on the success of its predecessor LIFE+, but will be better structured, more strategic, simplified and more flexible.

The most important change is that the new LIFE Programme will be composed of two sub-programmes: one for Environment and one for Climate Action. The creation of a sub-programme for Climate Action upgrades the former thematic strand "climate change" under the LIFE+ Environment Policy and Governance component to reflect the increased political priority of climate policy in the EU.

The Programme also provides a clearer definition of the activities funded for each priority areaclarifying grey areas and addressing stakeholders' concerns.

Another major change is the creation of a new type of projects known as “Integrated Projects”. They aim to improve the implementation of environmental and climate policy on larger territorial scale and ensure coordinated mobilisation of other EU, national and private funds for environmental or climate objectives.

Furthermore, the territorial scope of the LIFE Programme will be enlarged with more possibilities for funding activities outside the Union.

LIFE can now make use of other financial instruments and contribute to international studies.

3. Who can apply for LIFE funding?

The new LIFE Programme will finance both public and private sector entities, through "action" grants for best-practices, demonstration or pilot projects, and through "operating" grants to support the running costs of NGOs active in the fields of environment and climate.

LIFE will mainly support projects in the 27 Member States of the EU, including in the EU's Outermost Territories. Projects in the European Free Trade Association and European Environmental Agency Member States, candidate and accession countries, and countries covered by the European Neighbourhood Policy may be eligible provided these countries contribute to the Programme with supplementary resources. 

In addition, some activities in third countries may be financed as a part of projects implemented in the Member States. For example, a project that aims at protecting some bird species that nest in the EU could also include activities to improve the species' wintering sites in Africa.

LIFE funding can also be used for the Commission's actions in support of the initiation, implementation and enforcement of environmental and climate policy and legislation.

What is the budget of the LIFE programme?

The total financial envelope for the LIFE Programme in the MFF Communication for the period 2014-2020 is €3,618 million. Of this amount, €2,713.5 million is allocated to the sub-programme for Environment, half of which shall be allocated to action grants in the field of nature and biodiversity conservation. €904.5 million is allocated to the sub-programme for Climate Action.

Why has a specific sub-programme been established for climate action?

The EU is committed to contribute to the global fight against global warming. By 2020 the EU must reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 20 %, boost the share of renewable sources in the energy mix to 20 % and improve energy efficiency by 20 %.  These climate and energy targets are included in the Europe 2020 growth strategy. By 2050, the European Heads of State and governments have committed to reduce the EU's emissions by 80-95 %. Earlier this year, the Commission proposed a "Roadmap for moving to a competitive low-carbon economy in 2050", setting out a plan to meet this long-term target.

This will require increased climate action and specific investments in all sectors of the European economy ("mainstreaming"). The LIFE sub-programme for Climate Action will support these investments and projects and catalyse faster and more efficient implementation of such investments through other funds.

In particular, the new LIFE programme will support, besides public authorities, private actors, especially small and medium enterprises, in testing small-scale low carbon and adaptation technologies. Specific local and regional climate mitigation, adaptation strategies or action plans will also be financed through Integrated Projects. The sub-programme will also support capacity building as well as awareness-raising actions involving stakeholders, in order to improve the implementation of the existing climate legislation.

There is a great potential for synergies between environmental and climate objectives as projects can benefit multiple purposes. For instance, projects related to forest protection may bring benefits for both biodiversity and climate mitigation by enhancing reforestation and thereby also improving carbon absorption capacity. Floodplain restoration projects may facilitate adaptation to climate change and the transition towards a more climate resilient society. The LIFE Programme will aim to optimise such synergies between the two sub-programmes.

What are the priority areas of the new LIFE Programme?

The sub-programme for Environment will shift its focus towards implementation and integration in three priority areas:

  • Environment and Resource Efficiency” will focus on the implementation of environment policy and exclude market replication-oriented innovation;
  • Biodiversity” will develop best practices for wider biodiversity challenges, while keeping its primary focus on Natura 2000; especially via Integrated Projects, which are consistent with Prioritised Action Frameworks developed by the Member States.
  • Environmental Governance and Information” will promote knowledge sharing, dissemination of best practices, better compliance, and awareness raising campaigns.

The sub-programme for Climate Action covers the following priority areas:

  • Climate Change Mitigation” will focus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions;
  • Climate Change Adaptation” will focus on increasing resilience to climate change;
  • Climate Governance and Information” will focus on increasing awareness, communication, cooperation and dissemination on climate mitigation and adaptation actions.

Will more specific priorities for funding be set?

The LIFE Programme has traditionally been a "bottom-up" Programme. This meant that applicants could submit proposals in all environmental areas. For example, the LIFE Environment Policy and Governance component under LIFE+ currently has 12 different thematic priorities (e.g., water, waste, chemicals, air, climate, soil, noise, forest, etc.) and it is not currently possible to directly stimulate demand for particular aspects that require EU attention. The ability to make greater use of project results in support of policy needs (the catalytic or multiplier effect of the Programme) is thus underdeveloped.

The new LIFE programme will shift from a pure bottom-up approach towards an approach whereby more concrete thematic priorities for call for proposals will be defined for both environment and climate sub-programmes. These will be established in multi-annual work programmes prepared by the Commission in consultation with the Member States. These priorities will not be exhaustive in order to allow applicants to submit proposals in other areas, and to incorporate new ideas and react to new challenges.

The multiannual work programme shall last for at least two years, and will also specify qualitative and quantitative outcomes, indicators and targets for each priority area and type of projects. The work programme will also allocate funds between each environmental priority area and between different types of funding within each sub-programme.

What are the new LIFE Integrated Projects?

Integrated Projects are a new type of project that aim to improve the implementation of environment and climate policy by focusing on the implementation of environmental or climate plans and strategies on a larger territorial scale (e.g. regional, multi-regional, national).

These projects should improve the integration of environment and climate aspects into other EU policies. To do this they will need to be inclusive, so they require stakeholders to be involved.

They are intended to coordinate the mobilisation of other EU, national and private funds for environmental and climate objectives, encouraging applicants to develop a strategic approach towards certain environmental and climate challenges by using various funds and programmes. LIFE support will therefore be used to implement new or existing sectoral programmes such as regional Natura 2000 networks, river basin management plans, waste management plans or cross-border flood prevention strategies. This will require structured cooperation between LIFE and the other main EU Funds within the Common Strategic Framework.

For Environment, Integrated Projects will focus on plans and programmes related to the Birds and Habitats Directives, the Water Framework Directive, and Waste and Air quality legislation, and indirectly also the Marine Framework Strategy Directive.

For Climate Action, Integrated Projects will focus on the implementation of mitigation and adaptation strategies and action plans in all relevant sectors.

The new LIFE programme may also fund technical assistance projects aimed at supporting the preparation of Integrated Projects.

Before 2014, the Commission will organise information sessions on the new LIFE Regulation and on Integrated Projects, during which principles will be explained and illustrative examples provided.

Will the new LIFE programme continue to fund "traditional" LIFE projects or will it favour Integrated Projects?

Yes, funding of "traditional" LIFE projects will continue with selection based on merit. However, the aim is to stimulate the development of Integrated Projects. The budget split between Integrated Projects and "traditional" LIFE projects will be defined in the multi-annual work programmes to be prepared by the Commission, in consultation with the Member States.

The multi-annual work programmes will include flexible adjustment mechanisms allowing the transfer of unused budget allocated to Integrated Projects to "traditional" LIFE projects to ensure a full use of the programme resources, in case too few Integrated Project proposals of a sufficient quality are received.

What will the LIFE co-financing rate for action grants be?

The maximum co-financing rate for LIFE projects will be 70 % of eligible costs. By way of exception, the co-financing rate for Integrated Projects and preparatory projects will be up to 80 % of eligible costs. The 75 % LIFE co-financing for priority habitats and species has been removed because the focus of the new LIFE sub-programme for Environment is now on the Natura 2000 network rather than on specific species or habitats.

What are the expected results or targets of the new LIFE programme?

The new LIFE programme will aim to achieve:

  • a 25 % increase in the mobilisation of funds for environment and climate compared to 2011 thanks to LIFE activities;
  • 15 % of Natura 2000 sites brought to adequate management, 5 % of ecosystem services restored, 25 % of habitats and species targeted by LIFE projects should have improved conversation status;
  • 12 % of regions to manage waste adequately;
  • 12 % of River Basin Districts brought to adequate management and their water should have improved ecological status;
  • 10 % of EU population to benefit from better air quality;
  • improved participation of citizens and NGOs in the decision-making process;
  • increased development and implementation of climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies/plans;
  • increased development and use of innovative technologies, systems and best practice solutions for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and approaches for increased climate resilience.
  • a replication and transfer rate of at least 25% for technologies, methodologies, new approaches and other best practise solutions developed under LIFE

Why does the new LIFE Programme continue to give grants to environmental NGOs?

European environmental and climate NGOs are given grants by LIFE to ensure that they take part in the EU policy process and balance the interests of other (better resourced) stakeholders. NGOs also give input to EU environmental and climate policies through studies they carry out and data they collect in specific fields. Funding is spread over various NGOs to ensure input in a broad range of policy areas, specialisations and geographical span.

These environmental and climate NGOs help bring EU policies closer to Europeans, and act as watchdogs at local, regional and even national level.

LIFE funding can therefore be used for certain operational and administrative costs of non-profit making entities. The maximum rate of LIFE co-financing for operating grants shall be 70 % of eligible costs, so matching funds must be found elsewhere, though membership fees, foundations, trusts etc.

Criteria for selection of environmental and climate NGOs, and the allocation of funds for operating grants, will be decided in the annual work programmes to be prepared by the Commission, in consultation with the Member States. Such criteria would aim at ensuring effective contribution from NGOs to EU policy development and implementation, as well as building up and strengthening their capacity to become more efficient partners, including for new NGOs.

Will eco-innovation activities still be supported by the new LIFE Programme?

Eco-innovation has always been an important part of the LIFE Programme. In the context of the Europe 2020 Strategy, eco-innovation plays a central role in the pursuit of a smart, sustainable and inclusive growth in Europe. The challenge of fostering eco-innovation is recognised both under the Resource Efficiency and Innovation Union flagships.

However, market-driven private sector innovation and large-scale eco-innovation projects will mainly be financed by Horizon 2020 (the new EU funding programme for Research and Innovation), and the new Competitiveness and SMEs instrument. Therefore, these activities have been excluded from the LIFE Programme, in particular from the sub-programme for Environment.

The new LIFE Programme will focus more on public sector-oriented innovation and on finding non-profit oriented solutions to environmental and climate challenges. These are most often best implemented through public-private partnerships. LIFE will also finance innovative projects that promote new and more cost-effective ways (management approaches, best practices, techniques) of implementation.

LIFE will encourage the uptake by private and/or public entities of environmental and climate-related research and innovation results funded by Horizon 2020. For example, it could be envisaged that ideas developed under Horizon 2020 could be tested and demonstrated in the context of implementing specific EU legislation through a LIFE project.

Will LIFE continue to invest on Natura 2000?

Yes. LIFE is an essential tool to support the effective management of a network that covers almost 1/5 of the EU territory. Financing such a huge network is a real challenge and the Commission is proposing a strengthened integrated approach using the various EU sectoral funds, ensuring their consistency with the priorities of Natura 2000 action frameworks, together with an enhanced LIFE Biodiversity priority area. 

In this respect, the Commission Services are issuing a Staff Working Paper on Financing Natura 2000 to outline how the different EU funding instruments can be better used to support this unique European network of protected areas, and deliver benefits for people and nature. The approach is for Member States and the Commission to generate better strategic planning for financing Natura 2000 via more effective programmes and projects to exploit the opportunities presented by LIFE and relevant key EU financial instruments.

This will be achieved by using LIFE as a catalyst to lever other EU and domestic funds through promotion of a more programmatic approach particularly through the use of Integrated Projects. The development of Integrated Projects under LIFE, covering a significant part of the territory, should strengthen the capacity for management at this scale. This will be best achieved within the framework of multi-annual plans set up by the Member States at national and/or regional levels called "prioritised action frameworks". Natura 2000 Prioritised Action Frameworks should provide the foundation for Member States' preparation of Integrated Projects for the management of Natura 2000 under the new LIFE programme, while linked to the application of the relevant main EU funds under shared management.

Does the new LIFE Programme foresee indicative national allocations?

No. Under the new LIFE programme there will no longer be indicative national allocations, as is the case under the current LIFE+ programme (based on population and on the percentage of the national territory designated as Natura 2000). The new LIFE programme will first and foremost select projects that demonstrate best practices and approaches and add value at the European level.

The indicative national allocations under LIFE+ were intended to secure funding for smaller Member States. An evaluation of the system has shown however that they did not increase applications from these Member States.

The Commission is aware of the obstacles faced in some Member States in preparing project proposals. It is conscious that some Member States have a greater responsibility vis-à-vis the EU area, for example, because they host high value biodiversity areas or transboundary river basin districts. A geographical balance will therefore be sought in the grants for Integrated Projects.

Criteria will be established for each thematic sector in which Integrated Projects are possible in the multi-annual work programmes. Such criteria might include, for example, the percentage of national territory covered by Natura 2000 areas, or the length or surface area of a river basin in a given country.

There will be special attention given to transnational projects, which will account for at least 15 % of the LIFE budget. Transnational cooperation is essential to guarantee environmental protection and climate objectives.

How will the new LIFE programme make use of other financial instruments?

As well as "action" grants for best practices, demonstration or pilot projects, a part of the LIFE budget may be allocated to supporting promising, innovative projects (potentially public private partnerships) that are close to commercialisation, but that still struggle to attract market-based loans or equity capital.

 To support these types of projects, LIFE could make use of financial debt and equity instruments distributed through the European Investment Bank in order to attract private funds to leverage the programme resources. In this way, LIFE funds will achieve a much higher leverage effect than traditional grants, thereby increasing the impact of the programme.

Are there plans to delegate the management of LIFE to an EU Executive Agency?

Under the LIFE+ Programme, the Commission is entirely responsible for the management of the Programme. The MFF Communication indicates that a substantial part of the future funding programmes will be delegated to existing Executive Agencies as part of a simplification process.

The new LIFE Regulation foresees that some management tasks could be delegated to an existing EU Executive Agency, for example, the selection and monitoring of projects, while the Commission would remain responsible for the governance of the programme.

What will be done to simplify the project management?

The duration of the selection procedure will be shortened, especially for Integrated Projects.

For Integrated Projects, a two-stage submission procedure will be introduced, with first a selection on the basis of a short concept note, which would secondly be followed by a more detailed project proposal. The shift to multi-annual framework partnerships with NGOs (rather than annual selections), will also streamline this selection process. 

The Commission also proposes a stronger involvement of Member States in setting strategic priorities and approving the multiannual work programmes. This will replace Member State approval of the list of projects selected for funding, further shortening the selection process.

The Commission is considering the introduction of an IT-tool for electronic submission of proposals to increase the use of lump sums and simplify eligibility of costs.

What role will LIFE National Contact Points play in the new LIFE programme?

LIFE National Contact Points will have a significant role to play in promoting the LIFE Programme and its Integrated Projects among potential beneficiaries at national, regional or local level, whether they are private, public or private non commercial (such as NGOs). The Commission will encourage Member States to develop a strategic approach to making the best use of different instruments for environmental and climate purposes.