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Background on Green Infrastructure

What is Green Infrastructure?

Green Infrastructure serves the interests of both people and nature. It should be designed and managed as a multifunctional resource capable of delivering a wide range of benefits: One of the key attractions of Green Infrastructure is its multi-functionality, which allows unlocking several benefits on the same spatial area. Green Infrastructure includes natural and semi-natural areas, features and green spaces  – spanning from large wilderness areas to green roofs –, in rural and urban, terrestrial, freshwater, coastal and marine areas. By enhancing Green Infrastructure, valuable landscape features can be maintained or created, which contribute to the delivery of ecosystem services and are valuable for biodiversity. The Resource Efficiency roadmap identifies investment in Green Infrastructure as an important step to protecting natural capital – towards smart, sustainable and inclusive growth that is priority objective for the EU.

Actions are taken at local, regional, national and European levels and benefits associated with GI increase in proportion to the scale and coherence and connectivity at which they are deployed. The benefits European citizens enjoy from GI will be enjoyed fully if its elements are consistently maintained and enhanced across all scales.

Promoting Green Infrastructure in the main policy areas

Investing in Green Infrastructure can provide many social, economic and environmental benefits, for example water retention and flood alleviation, cooling urban heat islands, space and habitat for wildlife with access to nature for people, places for outdoor relaxation and improved health and well-being. Investing in Green Infrastructure creates jobs and promotes sustainable development and smart growth.

Therefore, Green infrastructure will be integrated into the main policies, such as agriculture, forestry, nature, water, marine and fisheries,  regional and cohesion policy (see EEA's report on Green Infrastructure and territorial cohesion 2011), climate change mitigation and adaptation, transport, energy, disaster prevention and land use policies. In some cases the interactions between policy objectives and Green Infrastructure can enhance synergies, whilst in others there might be trade-offs. It is also important for the better implementation of spatial planning tools. Green Infrastructure can be integrated into Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and into Strategic Environment Assessment (SEA).

Green Infrastructure is a catalyst to economic growth. It can play an important role in the European Semester process:

  • it can positively impact resource consumption by reducing energy use or by increasing available water supply,
  • it attracts new investments or new businesses to the area,
  • it saves costs arising from negative environmental effects and brings health benefits, including through disaster prevention and mitigation (floods, droughts, forest fires, heat waves in urban areas, avalanches and landslides in rural areas, …).

The Study on "Economic and Social Benefits of Environmental Protection and Resource Efficiency related to the European Semester" provides information on potential financial, economic and social impacts of floods, and how Green Infrastructure can mitigate flood risk. It also provides valuable data on floods for all 28 EU Member States.

Integrated land management: Giving space to ecosystems

Cover ImageEuropean landscape is modified dramatically every day by fragmentation, change and intensification of land use as a result of a persistent human development. Urban expansion and construction of road and energy infrastructures have degraded and divided valuable ecosystems affecting their habitats and species and reducing the spatial and functional coherence of the landscape. The EEA's report on Landscape Fragmentation in Europe (2011) presents the extent of landscape fragmentation across an entire continent using a scientifically sound method. It also reveals the most relevant driving forces behind fragmentation, demonstrating that varying factors are relevant in different parts of Europe.

In general degraded ecosystems have lower species richness and are unable to offer the same services than healthy ecosystems. Such relationships have been spatially analyzed in EEA's report on Spatial analysis of green infrastructure in Europe (2014).

Developing Green Infrastructure will enhance the land's permeability for migrating species and re-connect habitats which had been separated by e.g. intensive land use, transport routes or urban sprawl.

Funding for Green Infrastructure

LIFE building up Europe’sgreen infrastructureMember States currently have the opportunity to support Green Infrastructure through programs integrated into their development strategies and co-financed from the Structural Funds (the European Regional Development Fund (Chapter 4) and European Social Fund), the Cohesion Fund, the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund, the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development, LIFE+ and the Framework Research Programme/Horizon 2020. Funding for climate change mitigation and adaptation could also provide significant co-benefits for Green Infrastructure, given the carbon storage, erosion and flood control services of many ecosystems. The new multi-annual financial framework for the period 2014-2020 proposes enlarged financing possibilities for Green Infrastructure projects.

The Commission is currently exploring with the European Investment Bank (EIB) the possible establishment of an EU biodiversity finance facility, and the potential for innovative financial instruments, including public-private partnership approaches, to attract private investments in Green Infrastructure projects. Such investments could for example focus on ecosystem restoration projects as insurance against floods and other natural risks, or to improve water quality.

Given the budget limitations of public funds, it would be desirable for the private sector to play a stronger role in financing Green Infrastructure than is currently the case. Green Infrastructure provides the possibilities to be used as an insurance for economic development against climate change effects, in particular as an excellent tool for the green economy and building upon economic advantages of restoration (such as the increase in land values of a restored area and its surroundings compared with intensively exploited or degraded agricultural, urban or industrial areas). Green Infrastructure can also provide financing opportunities linked to innovation (such as innovative planning approaches, the design of urban elements enhancing biodiversity, all combinations of technologies enhancing ecosystem services …).

More information on Green Infrastructure

The Commission has funded a number of study contracts on Green Infrastructure:  

To assist in the preparation of the Green Infrastructure strategy, a major conference was organised in 2010; DG ENVs Green Week (e.g. with sessions in 2010 and 2012) and DG REGIOs Open Days host regularly information sessions on Green Infrastructure. The Biodiversity Information System for Europe (BISE) will contain a depository for Green Infrastructure information online, with a search function for relevant GI documents; a library with relevant documents has been established on the EC CIRCABC website.