The annual LIFE awards celebrate projects pushing Europe to be more sustainable with the help of funding from LIFE – one of the European Commission’s most successful funding programmes which will soon expand its remit.
When the Director-General of the European Commission’s Environment programme, Daniel Calleja Crespo, took the microphone at this year’s Life Awards ceremony in Brussels, he celebrated European policy in his field. ‘The European Union has the most advanced environment legislation in the world’, he said, ‘but all these rules are not really useful if we do not apply them on the ground.’
The Awards demonstrate how LIFE-funded projects create jobs, opportunities and save species and habitats.
That is why the LIFE programme – the EU’s funding instrument for the environment and climate action – is so important, he added. Since the programme was created in 1992, it has funded thousands of projects, enabling beneficiaries to bring Europe’s environmental policies to life in their country by reducing emissions, nurturing the renewable-energy sector or protecting biodiversity. The current funding period runs from 2014-2020 and has a budget of EUR 3.4 billion.
This year’s LIFE Awards ceremony – which took place in May – provided an opportunity to acknowledge those beneficiaries’ efforts as they compete for the four award categories.
Angelo Salsi, Head of Unit at LIFE, said the awards are vital because they also celebrate how the EU can act as an engine, fuelling change at the local level. ‘The LIFE Awards recognise the system built by a mixed effort of local initiatives on the ground and the support they receive from the EU,’ he explained. ‘The awards demonstrate how this system works and how LIFE-funded projects create jobs, opportunities and save species and habitats.’
Action on the ground
Each year, Salsi’s team usually pre-select a handful of successful LIFE-funded projects to be considered for prizes in the environment, nature, and climate categories. However, this year, that list stretched to an unprecedented number, with 191 projects chosen for consideration.
Although Salsi has been working on the Programme since the first awards ceremony was held in the early 2000s, he says he has never seen so much activity taking place across the EU. ‘Having so many pre-selected candidates demonstrates there is real intense activity taking place across Europe and huge efforts to make the environment in which we all live a little bit better and to make our activity a little bit more sustainable,’ he commented. ‘They tell the story of a Europe that is working in the right direction.’
With so many projects in the running, this year’s awards were fiercely competitive. Salsi’s team narrowed the191 projects to just 15 finalists, before the winners were decided by a jury of three experts: MEP Adina-Ioana Valean, environment correspondent at The Guardian, Fiona Harvey, and CEO and founder of Solar powered technology company Exeger Operations, Giovanni Fili.
In the nature category, the jury selected LIFE WolfAlps as the winner for its work on increasing the number of wolves in the Alpine regions of France, Italy and Slovenia. The winner of the environment prize was LIFE AGROintegra, a Spanish project helping farmers to limit their pesticide use by demonstrating alternatives. Finally, the oLIVE-CLIMA project was awarded the climate action prize for its efforts to help Greek farmers to adopt sustainable farming techniques that could be adapted to climate change.
For the fourth and final category, members of the public were asked to participate in the LIFE Citizen's Prize by picking their favourite from a list of nine projects. Almost 8 000 people took part in the public vote via Facebook, eventually choosing LIFE+ SmartPV as the winner – a project aiming to improve the value of Cyprus’ solar power by connecting up solar panel owners via a decentralised power network.
A LIFE’s work
The evening also saw two lifetime achievement awards handed to individuals who have made a significant impact in the LIFE Programme. The dual prize reflected the collaborative nature of the programme – the way it unites local ideas with international funding and support.
One lifetime achievement award was handed to the first head of the LIFE Unit, Bruno Julien, who managed over 800 projects during his 24 years at the European Commission. The other recognised the contribution of biologist Miguel Ángel Simón Mata – aka Mr Lynx – who helped to conserve the Iberian lynx population in Andalusia with funding support from the LIFE programme.
Europe might be facing huge environmental challenges but the LIFE Programme demonstrates how small projects can have huge impacts when they are backed by the EU and its resources. Thanks to its success so far, LIFE is now looking to expand its remit, applying its successful model to more sectors.
‘Its success is so huge that the Commission is proposing to increase the 2021-2027 budget by 60 %, not only for nature, not only for climate, not only for the environment, but to also include energy,’ said Director-General Crespo, on returning to the stage at the awards ceremony.
‘I think we are talking about the jewel in the crown, a successful programme, and we need to keep working to implement it,’ he concluded.
- Publication date
- Directorate-General for Environment