Financing the Natura 2000 network
Natura 2000 is the cornerstone of EU biodiversity policy. As establishment of the Natura 2000 network nears completion, the priority now is to make it fully operational by effectively managing and restoring the areas concerned. While the primary responsibility lies with Member States, the Commission has presented a recent Staff Working Paper showing how various sources of EU funding can be used to help meet the significant increase in investment required.
Natura 2000 is the largest network of protected areas in the world. It contains over 26 000 sites and is greater in size than Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic combined. It is based on a broad concept of land and water management to provide humans with sustainable livelihoods while safeguarding Europe’s natural assets and wildlife heritage.
To manage the network effectively requires an annual injection of some EUR 5.8 billion, of which one third goes to one-off investments. The Habitats Directive explicitly links the delivery of necessary conservation measures to EU co-financing. This is to be achieved through the integration of Natura 2000 financing into key policy sectors. Agriculture, particularly its rural development strand with agri-environment and forest measures, is the most important of these. Cohesion policy also plays a major role in funding investments, especially in the newer Member States.
A key element to strengthen integration for the post-2014 period will be the placing of EU co-financing on a more strategic footing. Member States are being asked to develop multi-annual funding strategies for Natura 2000 called ‘prioritised action frameworks’. These will define the priorities for action over the next period, translate them into practical conservation measures and identify clear links to relevant EU funds and programmes, including those related to maritime and fisheries policy. The LIFE programme, especially the proposed ‘Integrated Projects’ will be a key tool to help delivery of these funding strategies.
Despite the large sums of money involved, the socio-economic benefits of investing in Natura 2000, estimated at EUR 200-300 billion per year, far outweigh the estimated costs. Natura 2000 delivers many vital ecosystem services including carbon sequestration and storage, water provision and purification, flood control and prevention of natural hazards. Natura 2000 therefore has a valuable role to play in climate change adaptation and mitigation and the network currently stores the equivalent of 35 billion tonnes of CO2 with an estimated value of between EUR 607 billion and EUR 1 130 billion. Furthermore, its annual tourism and recreational benefits are estimated at between EUR 5 to EUR 9 billion.
A well-managed network can make a major contribution towards the EU’s wider environmental objectives. One of these is to halt and reverse the loss of biodiversity and ecosystems by 2020. The Natura 2000 network has a critical role to play in achieving this goal.