Green Infrastructure – a network of healthy ecosystems – serves the interests of both people and nature. It ensures that the quality of ecosystems is maintained or restored and that natural areas remain connected together. Therefore, benefits from nature such as clean air and water, flood prevention, crop pollination, carbon storage or health and well-being are delivered to citizens. At the same time, it allows species to thrive across their natural habitat.
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 Green Infrastructure increase in proportion to the scale and coherence and connectivity at which they are deployed. The benefits European citizens enjoy from Green Infrastructure will be enjoyed fully if its elements are consistently maintained and enhanced across all scales.
A glossary document with key terms and definitions has been elaborated by the Green Infrastructure Implementation and Restoration Working Group.
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 business opportunities, promotes sustainable development and smart growth. However, using Green Infrastructure as the better solution compared to purely technical approaches is not widely considered yet.
Therefore, Green infrastructure will need to 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, research, transport, energy, disaster prevention (see EEA's report on the role of Green Infrastructure in mitigating the impacts of weather and climate change related natural hazards) and land use policies. In many 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:
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 27 EU Member States.
European 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.
Member 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 research funding programmes. 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 and the European Investment Bank (EIB) have established the Natural Capital Financing Facility (NCFF). The NCFF will finance investments in natural capital projects, including in Green Infrastructure, which generate revenues or save costs and contribute to nature, biodiversity and climate change adaptation objectives. The NCFF is open to public and private entities, where appropriate cooperating in partnerships. Investments could for example focus on ecosystem restoration projects as insurance against floods or draughts 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 organized a number of conferences to assist in preparation and implementation of the Green Infrastructure strategy. The Biodiversity Information System for Europe (BISE) contains a depository for Green Infrastructure information online, including a library with relevant documents.