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Green infrastructure in policy

In a nutshell

The European Commission promotes the use and integration of green infrastructure in other EU policies.

In practice

Investing in green infrastructure can provide many social, economic and environmental benefits, for water storage, purification and flood prevention, cooling urban heat islands, improved health, well-being and access to nature for people, as well as space and habitat for wildlife. It also creates jobs, business opportunities, promotes sustainable development and smart growth. However, making use of green infrastructure is not widely considered yet as a better solution than the single-purpose, built approaches known as grey infrastructure.

There are obvious synergies between green infrastructure and environmental policies such as land use, water and the marine environment. But several other EU policies are working to integrate green infrastructure and harness its potential for agriculture and forestry, climate change mitigation and adaptation (see also here), research or disaster prevention. In fact, green infrastructure can be beneficial and should be integrated in most EU policies, particularly fisheries,transport, energy and culture. It is also important for the better implementation of spatial planning tools and should be integrated into Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and into Strategic Environment Assessment (SEA).

Green Infrastructure and Natura 2000

The Natura 2000 network is a central part of the European green infrastructure: it harbours many of Europe’s remaining healthy ecosystems and biodiversity. It also provides a legal and organisational framework which can contribute to the long-term security, efficiency and cost-effectiveness of investments in green infrastructure.

Find out more about the economic benefits of the Natura 2000 network (Study, 2013, IEEP)

By reconnecting existing fragmented natural areas and Natura 2000 sites and restoring degraded habitats, green infrastructure can provide substantial added value and contributes to the objectives of Article 10 of the Habitats Directive by ensuring the ecological coherence of the Natura 2000 network so that Natura 2000 sites do not become isolated ‘islands of nature’. To assist Member States in the better implementation of Article 10, DG ENV has commissioned guidance on the maintenance of landscape connectivity features of major importance for wild flora and fauna (Aug. 2007).

Green infrastructure and natural flood management

Floods are the most common and most costly natural disasters in Europe. A typical flood causes on average €360 million (see study). Reducing human casualties and damage to economic activity and the environment caused by floods are key priorities of the EU Member States and of the EU 2007 Floods Directive. Traditional measures to reduce negative impacts of floods include building or reinforcing existing dykes and dams but there are other, potentially very cost-effective ways of achieving flood protection by tapping into nature's own capacity to absorb excess waters.

Natural flood management considers the hydrological processes across the whole catchment of a river or along a stretch of coast to identify where and which measures should be taken to increase water retention capacities. For instance:

  • restoring natural flows by realigning coastal areas
  • reconnecting rivers with their floodplain.
  • restoring wetlands to store flood water and slow down floods.
  • creating reservoirs in agricultural areas to store flood water during flood events
  • increasing sustainable urban drainage with green spaces, permeable surfaces and green roofs.

Find out more about the benefits of natural flood management measures and natural water retention measures.

For more information

Supporting the Implementation of Green Infrastructure (2015), including recommendations on how to promote GI, build capacity, improve information exchange, assess related technical standards and innovation opportunities, and explore opportunities for a Trans-European Network for Green Infrastructure (TEN-G).
For more information and country factsheets, see Annex 1:

Investing in green infrastructure, smart growth and returns on investment

Scoping study on links between Natura 2000 and cultural sites, a study exploring the contribution of Natura 2000 to the conservation and restoration of cultural capital

Green infrastructure and territorial cohesion (2011, EEA report)

COST 341 - Habitat Fragmentation due to Transportation Infrastructure: Findings of the COST Action (final report and handbook, 2003)

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