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LIFEnews features 2010

The evolution of LIFE Environment: past, present and future

(photo:Tim Hudson)Mr Hervé Martin
Head of Unit
LIFE Environment and Eco-Innovation
(Photo: Tim Hudson)

Our first port of call this year for the annual review meetings with the LIFE Unit was with Hervé Martin, Head of Unit for LIFE Environment and Eco-Innovation. Mr Martin’s portfolio also covers part of the European Commission’s Competiveness and Innovation Framework Programme (CIP) and the last 12 months have shown how LIFE and CIP can work well together in a complementary fashion. Mr Martin tells us how in his opinion “There is a need for the LIFE Environment programme and there is a need for the CIP. Our experiences from 2010 illustrate that the two initiatives serve different purposes and reach different beneficiaries. This is a good thing and it allows us to integrate more environmental approaches across a broader spectrum of public and private sector actors.”

“My role involves coordinating LIFE Environment and CIP to ensure that they operate favourably in parallel. To avoid duplication and overlaps we have a protocol that makes sure that the right types of projects are funded by the different instruments. Sometimes we have had to go back to applicants to ask them to clarify the scope of projects, and sometimes if we cannot fund them under LIFE we have managed to transfer them across to support through the CIP system. We are becoming quite proficient as a service provider in this area for our customers. We expect to continue providing this service as both CIP and LIFE Environment continue in their roles as independent entities, targeting their own fields of expertise, and generating their own wealth of environmental benefits.”

“We don’t know what will happen in the future but for the time being it is clear that LIFE Environment cannot be replaced by CIP and the CIP cannot replace LIFE Environment. If we put LIFE into CIP we will lose useful contributions in public sector in areas like waste, water, or air to name just a few. We would limit the scope of our activity. Therefore we will aim to keep the two concepts and we are working this way towards the next funding period.”

As part of the preparations for the 2014-2020 programmes, the EU is carrying out an impact assessment on the proposals that emerge for a successor to LIFE+. This process is to involve comparing the different options that might be possible in the future. It is expected that this will analyse the advantages and disadvantages of having instruments like LIFE Environment and CIP grouped together. Mr Martin notes that “Many people have different points of view on the future of LIFE and the current consultation provides a perfect means for everyone’s thoughts and ideas to be included in the plans that are put forward for the programmes after 2014”.

Policy support

(photo:LIFE CoT)

Findings from the consultation will be fed into the impact assessment process and Mr Martin predicts that “We will have a very interesting year in 2011 as we gear up for thinking about the longer term and what could happen in the future for the next period of funding. We have also gained a lot of knowledge about how we might improve the second part of the current LIFE+ programme.”

“The mid-term evaluation report contains many useful findings and recommendations to help improve the implementation of the LIFE programme. It highlights that we are going in the right direction and that we are able to use LIFE as an apparatus for increasing the links between EU policies and environmental action at ground level in the Member States. We take our lead from European Commission units responsible for developing thematic policies like those concerning waste, water or air. We then use LIFE’s annual call for proposals to encourage beneficiaries to find solutions that address these priorities that are evolving according to environmental policies at EU level. In this way we ensure that all LIFE projects are automatically programmed to produce added value at an EU level.”

“For example, in the next call we will again be promoting core messages like the use of integrated approaches to environmental action that are shown to work well in territorial initiatives such as river basin management plans, urban development strategies and waste management programmes. LIFE’s function here has been useful for mobilising domestic and other EU funds to carry out work involved with implementing EU directives and regulations. We know that other components of the LIFE programme intend to accelerate the promotion of this kind of integrated programming in future operations and we will also be placing more emphasis on integrated activity in the next call.”

“We will be pushing for LIFE Environment to carry out more joined-up and catalytic functions across its full reach, and particularly in two of the EU’s new policy domains. Firstly we will be promoting LIFE Environment as a tool for triggering integrated approaches in a concept that is being introduced called Compliance Promotion. This is something that is to happen upstream of legislation being launched and helps to ensure that Member States are in a position to enforce the legislation. It involves identifying the resources required to implement new environmental laws in terms of the structures, capacities, inspection facilities and finances etc. that will be needed.”

“LIFE Environment can from now on be used to facilitate this preparatory work, which will need to be taken forward by an integrated framework of partners at Member State level. We don’t expect that LIFE itself will be able to fund all the work involved in Compliance Promotion, but we know from its success with other integrated projects that it has the ability to play a main role in assessing what is required for Compliance Promotion, plus how to help resource these requirements.”

In the near future Compliance Promotion will be needed to help Member States comply with forthcoming EU policy developments like those in 2012 and 2013 that effect important areas such as water management, air quality, sustainable consumption and production. Mr Martin draws attention to another upcoming policy event where LIFE could be used to advocate Compliance Promotion. “In January 2011 we are adopting an eco-innovation agenda which will feed into the EU’s 2020 strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. This foresees a need to check all existing and forthcoming legislation for barriers to eco-innovation. LIFE Environment’s role with Compliance Promotion in areas like this could be explored within the next call.”

Call news

(photo: EU image bank)

LIFE Unit staff are aware that these priorities may be new to some beneficiaries and that the work involved in building partnerships for Compliance Promotion could require quite some planning. In recognition of this possibility, as well as other developments in the LIFE programme, next year’s call for LIFE proposals has been extended. The call will be launched earlier than usual, during the middle of February 2011, and applicants will have until the middle of July to submit their LIFE applications to the national authorities.

This extended period aims to allow potential beneficiaries to elaborate better quality project proposals and also to help produce a higher quantity of these quality proposals. The Commission will start the selection process in September 2011 and expects to see the first projects starting operations by the middle of 2012. A programme of Information Days in Member States will be used to explain what the programme expects from its 2011 priorities. Special ‘writing seminars’ may be organised by national authorities to help beneficiaries prepare quality applications that fit with LIFE’s requirements.

In addition to Compliance Promotion, the term Green Procurement will be widely used during the Information Day sessions covering LIFE Environment priorities. This is the second of the two new policy domains that Mr Martin referred to where LIFE can help encourage the development of integrated actions leading to mobilisation of large scale environmental commitments. He points out how “LIFE Environment has a lot of potential for stimulating Green Procurement projects. This is so because it can be used to carry out demonstration projects and bring different stakeholders together who might not normally see the benefits from working with each other.” He gives the example of how LIFE could be used to pilot the feasibility for a large scale public procurement programme involving upgrading the energy efficiency of a town or region’s building stock”(1)

Also, projects addressing the issue of Resource Efficiency are encouraged for the February application round. The call is keen to attract LIFE proposals capable of producing eco-innovative outputs with strong demonstration prospects. Subject areas that Mr Martin hopes should score well in the 2011 selection round include those, “That set out to do more with less (2), through green growth approaches and sustainable production actions.” Proposals focused on work to reduce the footprint from different parts of product lifecycle processes are also welcomed by the LIFE Environment and Eco-Innovation Unit, as are other high impact areas like improved waste management.

New thinking

These kinds of priorities coming through in the next call correspond with the new thinking that is going on in the LIFE Environment Unit about its long-term future direction. Climate action is an area that encompasses much of the LIFE Environment mandate, so climate change projects (holding either adaptation or mitigation goals) are thought to be a possible part of any future LIFE type activity, in the near and longer term. “We are aware that the Commission’s new Directorate General for Climate is interested in making use of different types of financial mechanisms to achieve its objectives, especially so in working with the SMEs.” states Mr Martin.

Carrying on with this issue he says “Loans rather than grants are shown to provide businesses with more room for manoeuvring and we see that loan finance can act as a strong incentive to find real-life uses for the technologies and techniques that our projects develop and demonstrate. This is evident when we look at what they have accomplished in other EU domains like Intelligent Energy Europe, and Information Society. Revolving loan funds also of course mean the money goes further and so can create greater benefits in the long-term from EU tax payers’ money. There is a question about innovative financial mechanisms in the consultation questionnaire and we would like to try and pilot these options to see how they might fit with a future LIFE regulation.”

Other new LIFE Environment ideas planned to come on stream in the second part of the LIFE + programming period include a fresh look at how best to track and record the results and impacts generated by the EU investments. “The first round of LIFE+ projects are now reaching a suitable stage of maturity to give us a clear picture of what difference they have actually made” says Mr Martin. He continues “In the past we have used a relatively restricted definition of sustainability but from now on we need to get much better at understanding how well our project outcomes are being sustained in the long run. This is especially important in environmental terms but we need also to know about economic and social sustainability too.”

Accordingly, there will be a new section in the application form covering this topic. The LIFE Unit will also be following-up in a more detail from now on during monitoring visits and evaluations to strengthen the programme’s knowledge about its role in generating socio-economic outcomes, both directly and indirectly. Such information can be employed to help justify future LIFE Environment financing at programme level but it will also be very useful at project level. Mr Martin explains “LIFE’s ability to demonstrate better the links between environmental action and socio-economic benefits will help gain support for more environmental activity at local, regional and national levels in Member States. This is very relevant in times of economic down-turn”.

Green Week

(photo:LIFECoT)

In his closing comments Mr Martin asks us to remind LIFEnews readers that all the points he has talked about can be discussed further using the web consultation and the approaching Information Days. He also wants to advertise the keynote event that LIFE Environment will be organising for Green Week 2011. “We have an ambitious schedule for Green Week next year and we will be further exploring LIFE’s role in matters such as integrated territorial projects, Compliance Promotion, Green Procurement and aspects of Resource Efficiency. All of these are to be on the table for discussion and we aim to include an interesting range of good practice examples in our Green Week events. This will help us raise the profile of LIFE Environment’s work and reinforce its future position as an instrument that is capable of working successfully with both business and the public sector to achieve the objectives of the EU’s environmental policies. These I believe are two very good arguments in favour of a long-term horizon for LIFE Environment”.

 

(1) See the GPPnet Green Public Procurement Network (LIFE02 ENV/IT/000023) project for an example of LIFE’s support in this area. (Back)

(2) See the LIFE brochure Getting more from less: LIFE and sustainable production in the EU. (Back)

LIFE+ Information sessions

Find out more on the Information sessions for potential applicants organised by the Commission in each Member State


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