Participants at LIFE’s 2011 key note conference reinforced the significance of LIFE’s contribution to improving the environment and identified proposals for how LIFE could be updated to help all its components secure future financing.
This year’s EU Green Week theme of resource efficiency provided the backdrop for LIFE’s key note annual conference which took place at the end of May. Hosted by the European Parliament in Brussels, some 290 conference delegates focused their attention on the LIFE Programme’s Environment component. Through analysis of ‘Success Stories and Future Challenges’ the two day event provided useful contributions to strategic consultations about the future for LIFE in the next period of EU financing to Member States (2014-2020).
Timo Makela, (Director of the International Affairs, LIFE & Eco-innovation directorate at the European Commission’s DG Environment) opened the conference and explained that, “This conference is an important moment for all of us with a stake in EU environmental policy. It is a very good opportunity for us to examine together the Programme’s achievements in the light of a changing policy environment, of shifting priorities and of changing modes of governance.”
Six separate agenda sessions were held during the conference where stakeholders exchanged a wide range of different experiences and ideas about the implementation of LIFE Environment. An opening session looked at LIFE projects’ success in implementing EU environmental law. The importance of such a governance role for LIFE was reinforced on numerous occasions throughout the conference by high profile speakers and audience members alike.
It was noted that future programming objectives could link LIFE funds even closer to helping Member States comply with environmental regulations, and LIFE’s ability to test new or better ways of improving the EU’s environmental footprint was highlighted as extremely useful. For example, panel members stressed how, “LIFE Projects have provided proof that we can make a contribution to reducing green house gases”, and that LIFE had, “created new standards and protocols where they didn’t exist before.” Conclusions from this scene setting session also underlined the relevance of disseminating the findings from LIFE projects so as to maximise the potential benefits and added-value that continues to be generated by LIFE Environment actions.
LIFE Environment’s history has seen it provide co-finance for project work in the public and private sector, as well as for NGOs and other third parties. Innovation has been the driving force behind a large proportion of projects, and lessons learnt by these types of LIFE investments were scrutinised at the end of the conference’s first day. Participants heard how technological innovation was most prominent among private sector beneficiaries, and a lively debate was stimulated around the challenges for LIFE to encourage even more innovative approaches.
Reference was made to the flexibility of LIFE funding which allowed cross-sectoral partnerships to take forward innovative actions in more coherent and coordinated ways. Commentators observed here how public private partnerships had successfully used LIFE to help remove market barriers for new technologies that improved our environment. Conference opinions about future LIFE support for innovative and technological projects were canvassed using the Parliament building’s voting system. Instant feedback from this electronic vote confirmed a majority in favour of innovation being further embedded within the objectives for LIFE Environment.
Day two of the conference started with a presentation from Christophe Bouvier, Regional Director for Europe at the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) who explained the synergies that can be, and have been, gained through their work with LIFE projects. Further connections were foreseen and members of the audience provided useful suggestions such as encouraging UNEP to explore how LIFE’s good practices from its Best of the Best projects could be adopted or applied by UNEP work. This led into a forum discussion about boosting multiplier effects from LIFE project outcomes.
Replication of project results has always been fundamental to LIFE Environment’s philosophy, and few other EU funding programmes give the same significance to multiplier effects. This emphasis on the ability of LIFE Environment projects to produce technologies and methodologies that can be used elsewhere in other countries is essential for demonstrating the Programme’s European dimension. Project proposals which are unable to clearly demonstrate their value at an EU level cannot be prioritised for LIFE support.
Conference delegates acknowledged this reality during their review of ways to widen the reach and strengthen the sustainability of LIFE project results. Discussion covered how assessment methods could be improved to capture more information about transferability and it was noted that, “the success of a LIFE project depends on the extent that it serves real economic, social and environmental needs”. Other success factors for ensuring European benefits were presented from an examination of 38 LIFE Environment projects that was carried out by the Programme’s external Astrale monitoring team. This revealed that projects with results that had been replicated included common attributes like: a robust institutional framework; strong understanding of customer and end users; effective networking abilities; and access to future funding options.
Mr Hervé Martin, Head of Unit for the LIFE Environment component stated his perspective saying that replication, transfer and sustainability will continue to be funding pre-requisites and calls from participants were heard to “change the afterLIFE communication plan to an afterLIFE continuation plan”. Mentoring also received recognition as a tool for helping LIFE projects to develop the skills needed for extending their benefits beyond LIFE funding periods (which was seen often to only represent an intermediate or demonstration phase in a project’s full potential lifecycle).
Other delegates suggested that the judging for Best of the Best awards should place a special weighting on the criteria to evaluate “replicability” of project results. Overall conclusions from the session underscored the value-for-money benefits of, “continuing LIFE’s multiplier effect so that its relatively small financial budget can still make a big environmental difference.”
Session number four of the conference looked at the latitude that LIFE has for harmonising its actions with other funding sources from national and EU budget. Presentations were made by EU programmes which can also serve environmental goals, namely the 7th Framework Programme for Research, CIP Eco-Innovation and Regional Policy funds.
Key conclusions from this session’s dialogue included a need for better clarity about the actual and potential connectivity between EU funding sources. Conference delegates confirmed that improving the coordination of funding was a win-win objective for all involved. Speakers thought that, “regional authorities are in the best position to understand linkages between projects funding sources” and “Member State public authorities and ministries are the cornerstone for coordinating joined-up approaches”. Views were expressed that the capacity of LIFE national Contact Points could be strengthened by improved coordination. “One-stop-shop” type EU project funding and advisory services in Member States were noted as providing productive functions.
Another interesting idea put forward for improving coordination between funding streams was to cross reference good practices. The proposition was made to publicise LIFE’s good practices in Regional Policy communication material and vice versa. Such a thematic approach to disseminating EU funded good practice was considered both useful and efficient. It would also help to foster more interaction between the different funding bodies and thus help address the current “silo approach”, which was thought to be in need of renewal.
One of the tools being examined by LIFE to help modernise funding approaches is the integrated project concept. This was discussed by delegates in the context of helping LIFE act as a catalyst for other sustainable development work. An integrated project example from Lapland was highlighted as an example to show how LIFE funds had developed the foundation work for an integrated eco-tourism initiative. LIFE supported the management planning phases and EU regional development funds were then used to help co-finance the main project costs involving new infrastructure. This example is also particularly pertinent since the public authorities in Lapland are also using EU funds from their Rural Development Programme and the Fisheries Local Action Group to further strengthen sustainable tourism facilities in the land of the midnight sun.
Integrated approaches were also seen as good for helping mainstream and multiply LIFE results by incorporating LIFE’s good practices within larger EU and national funds. Nevertheless, the conference moderator noted that care should be taken to avoid risks of LIFE’s core environmental objectives being diluted during replication of results into mainstream socio-economic developments.
Delegates voted to support further integration of integrated project approaches within LIFE, but this was accompanied by caution from a participant who stressed the importance of integration happening at the level of funding bodies as well as between different project phases or functions. A plea was made to make integrated projects manageable by funders coordinating their visits and monitoring requirements in order not to overburden project beneficiaries with multiple bureaucracy. More joined-up actions by funding bodies of this sort were viewed as a major incentive to encourage more integrated project actions at ground level.
Debate about integrated funding topics carried over into the conference session examining how LIFE can complement a broader range of policy initiatives. Examples were identified where LIFE had had an impact. However, delegates thought that much more could still be done to spread the environmental solutions that have been pioneered by LIFE. The case was quoted about how LIFE had successfully piloted effective agri-environment schemes and disappointment was expressed that in many cases these results had not been adopted by Member State authorities responsible for funding rural development.
A stronger focus on LIFE Environment’s role in influencing complementary policies was also picked up by MEPs who participated in a special session designed to take stock of the conference conclusions. Representing the European Parliament’s Environmental Committee and Globe EU, the MEP panel members were joined on a high level panel by The Committee of the Regions.
Good news released by the MEPs confirmed a Parliamentary agreement to support the case for continuing LIFE from 2014-2020. This positive message was balanced by a warning that the Parliament’s seal of approval did not automatically guarantee a future for LIFE Environment in the next financial period. MEP Bas Eickhout explained that, “The position of LIFE’s Nature component was possibly better established and more widely known among decision makers than LIFE Environment”.
Advice was thus issued by MEP Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy (The Environment Committee’s Rapporteur on the EU 2014 to 2020 Financial perspectives) for LIFE Environment stakeholders to avoid complacency during the run up to the final period of financial negotiations. Awareness raising for decision makers was encouraged to reiterate what LIFE Environment has already achieved, plus what it could achieve in the future. Programme publicity material was spotlighted as a useful tool for raising awareness about the practical ways that LIFE Environment is able to tackle priority challenges like waste minimisation, energy saving, or protecting the quality of Member States’ water, soils, air and heritage resources.
Members of the conference’s high level panel then discussed their thoughts about future priorities for LIFE Environment. These included ideas from MEP Sirpa Pietikainen for developing and implementing environmental indicators to help Member States measure their success at meeting targets like emissions, biodiversity and others contributing the EU’s 2020 strategy. Consensus was formed that LIFE’s role in implementing legislation should be strengthened. This was considered especially useful by Linda Gillham (from the Committee of the Regions) for municipalities and public authorities.
Panel members were also unanimous that LIFE projects had to demonstrate EU added-value and MEP Kriton Arsenis urged for the ‘replicability’ of LIFE actions to be awarded a top priority for future programme objectives. Similarly, panel opinions mirrored the earlier conference debate referring to how LIFE should not operate on its own and Member States should find ways of integrating smaller amounts of LIFE money with bigger sources of EU support.
Finally, MEPs reinforced the need to better inform decision-makers in Member States about LIFE Environment. They repeated the key message that although it only used a relatively small amount of money compared to the other EU budgets, LIFE Environment’s limited funds are able to make a big difference in encouraging businesses and public bodies to operate in more environmentally-friendly ways, and that this helps countries to comply with EU regulations and meet international obligations.