A recent conference considered the achievements of the EU’s strategy on green infrastructure, such as restored wetlands acting as both flood defences and biodiversity reserves. But there is a need for more investment to make the most of the economic and environmental benefits of such projects.
Despite the economic crisis, the EU’s green industries grew by over 50 % between 2000 and 2011. Investment in green infrastructure – networks of natural areas that deliver benefits such as clean water, flood prevention or crop pollination – not only protects and restores the environment, but also creates jobs, business opportunities and economic growth.
But to make the most of this potential requires a strategic approach and financial support. On 5 May 2015, the ‘Green Infrastructure: a European success story’ conference took stock of implementation of the EU’s green infrastructure strategy with the aim of renewing political commitment, especially at the national level.
Green success stories
Conference speakers showcased successes from around Europe. The Emscher River Landscape Park has helped transform Germany’s post-industrial Ruhr region by mobilising around €1 billion for landscape rehabilitation and €4.5 billion for water restoration. This 450 km2 project connects former industrial sites and railway lines with other green spaces in a green infrastructure based on the natural hydrology of the river and its tributaries – enabling wastewater, sewage and excess storm-water flows to be managed cost effectively.
Such investments have already reaped direct economic benefits: the UK’s Natural Economy North West initiative estimates that green construction has generated €3.2 billion in value added and supports more than 100 000 jobs. Sweden’s urban regeneration initiative in Malmö has helped cut unemployment from 30 % to 6 %.
Strategic investment needed
Nevertheless, green infrastructures need more public and private financing. European support is available, the conference learned – in the form of “greening measures” under agricultural and regional funding programmes, for example. However, making the best use of them requires strategic national frameworks, such as the one put in place by France, or those being developed by Sweden and Germany.
The recently established Natural Capital Financing Facility will also show that working with nature rather than against it is a business opportunity. Flood-plain restoration, and plants grown to act as carbon sinks, can generate revenues and save costs.
“To make green infrastructure in Europe a full success, the Member States need to do more,” said Sirpa Hertell, Vice-Chair of the Committee of the Regions’ Commission for the Environment, Climate Change and Energy, in the conference’s closing remarks. “At national level, we need more enabling of legal, planning and funding frameworks for green infrastructure.”