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Janez Potočnik

European Commissioner for Environment

20 years of protecting nature in Europe

Celebrating the 20 Years' anniversary of the Habitats Directive, Natura 2000 and the LIFE Regulation

Denmark, 21 May 2012

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am delighted to be here today to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of one the pillars of EU environmental legislation – the Habitats Directive.

Together with the Birds Directive, the Habitats Directive has been Europe's key legal instrument in the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity over the past two decades. Back in 1992, as some of you will recall, Europe was experiencing a rapid and dangerous loss of its natural areas, in particular those areas with high biodiversity value. Today, the trend has changed.

The Habitats Directive - by raising awareness and bringing together EU Member States, by increasing cooperation and allowing to share experience and expertise - has provided a solid foundation for the protection of EU's species and habitats. With the support of the LIFE programme the Habitats Directive is a prime example of the added value that the EU can bring to local communities.

For me, its greatest contribution has been the creation of Natura 2000, our network of protected areas. Embracing over 26,000 sites and covering almost a fifth of our land territory, Natura 2000 is the largest coordinated network of protected areas in the world. It is not only about nature reserves... Natura 2000 is about much more. It is about people, it is about showing how conservation and sustainable use can go hand in hand with benefits to individuals, their society and their economy.

The Directive has brought people closer together in pursuit of a common objective – that of preserving Europe’s rich natural heritage. Thanks to the Habitats Directive, our knowledge of the status and management needs of species and habitats in Europe, and our capacity for action have greatly increased over the past two decades. In this respect, the LIFE programme has played a key role.

Today time does not allow me to share with you all of the success stories, nor to list the number of species and habitats that have recovered thanks to our legislation, but … as a timely reminder of the importance of working together…I would like to invite you to take a look at our new brochure which highlights the achievements and illustrates them with examples from all 27 Member States. Working together can make a real difference!

As you know, despite the many successes, however, the Habitats Directive is still 'work in progress'. We need to do more if we want to see all species and habitats of EU conservation concern enjoy favourable conservation status. At EU level, only 17 % of the species and habitats listed in the Directive have attained that goal. But, again, this – 17% - shows that it is possible.

What we need is to ensure the full and effective implementation of the Nature Directives. This will help achieve our objective of halting and reversing the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services by 2020 - which is one of the major targets of the EU Biodiversity Strategy. The Strategy, as you know, is designed to contribute to resource efficiency by ensuring that Europe's natural capital is managed sustainably, and that it will contribute to climate change mitigation and adaptation goals by improving the resilience of ecosystems and the services they provide.

In line with the Biodiversity Strategy, and to achieve our objectives, the Commission will present ideas on how investments in "green infrastructure" could help improve and restore ecosystems and ecosystem services, for example, by linking up habitats out from spaces more effectively. In addition, we are also working on a proposal to directly address one of the major threats to biodiversity in Europe: combating Invasive Species.


Ladies and Gentlemen,

As we look to the future of the Habitats Directive, investing in Natura 2000 is also very much about investing in our own future. Natura 2000 provides us with vital services such as carbon storage, flood prevention, water quality maintenance –estimated to be worth around €200–300 billion per year, many times more than the cost of managing the network.

We need to provide the right policy framework and incentives for those who own and manage Natura 2000 sites, so that they are rewarded for the services they provide.

But… we also need to encourage national policy-makers in areas such as agriculture, forestry, land use, energy and transport to take account of natural capital and biodiversity in their investment decisions.

In support of this, the Commission has proposed that nature and biodiversity are fully integrated into the Common Agricultural, Fisheries and Cohesion policy funds.

Nature needs our help, but it will pay us back many times over. Everyone has a role to play in making the Habitats Directive and Natura 2000 a success – be they public authorities, private landowners and users, developers, conservation NGOs, scientific experts, local communities such as here in Aalborg or private individuals. This is the legacy of partnership that we should aim to leave for future generations.

Thank you for your attention.

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