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European Commission

Janez Potočnik

European Commissioner for Environment

Protecting our natural capital and biodiversity must play a central role in our economic strategy

European Network of Heads of Nature Conservation Agencies (ENCA), 11th Plenary Session

Brussels, 25 September 2012

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure to be here on the occasion of the 11th plenary session of ENCA, and to share with you a few reflections on the current challenges of the biodiversity agenda.

Allow me to start by stressing how much the Commission values the work of the ENCA network, and your contribution to the development and implementation of biodiversity policy in the EU. You have a unique insight into the state of biodiversity on the ground, the pressures it is facing, including climate change and the impact of national and EU policies.

The issue of integrating biodiversity more effectively into related EU policy areas, as well as into the business agenda has been under discussion for some time. These reflections have intensified as a result of the current financial crisis and the focus on sustainable growth and employment.

Biodiversity is still understood by many to be synonymous with nature conservation. While the protection of habitats and species for their intrinsic value must continue, it is clear that this pillar of our Biodiversity policy will not be enough to deliver the EU 2020 biodiversity goals. However, it is my conviction that protecting our natural capital and the biodiversity that underpins it, must play a central role in the transformation of the EU economy as foreseen in the Europe 2020 economic strategy.

The Roadmap on Resource Efficiency launched this time last year, acknowledges that being more efficient in the way that we use our resources, can make a significant contribution to sustainable growth. Our most important resource is our natural capital and the benefits that we draw from nature year after year. If we erode that capital for short-term gain, we are simply gambling with our future.

Let me give you the most obvious example where nature conservation brings considerable benefits: the Natura 2000 network. In addition to protecting the areas of high biodiversity value in the EU, the Natura 2000 network provides benefits such as carbon sequestration and water quality estimated to be worth €200-300 billion per year, which means that the costs of maintaining the network are 2 - 3% of the benefits. Investing in Natura 2000 also provides very significant job opportunities through tourism, recreation and other activities, especially in rural areas.

However, we know that we will also be faced with trade–offs, in particular outside protected areas where nature conservation is not the primary driver, and we will need to find the right balance. In this regard, the ecosystem and ecosystem service approach has a very clear and direct relevance to growth and employment. As long as the right checks and balances are put in place, I think we can achieve a more effective integration of biodiversity into related priorities and into the business agenda.

***

Ladies and gentlemen,

Securing the investment needed to protect and restore biodiversity requires a proper evaluation of ecosystems and their services. We first need to understand the status of our ecosystems, where we still do not have enough knowledge. The Commission is working closely with Member States, stakeholders and the European Environment Agency, to establish a robust knowledge base on biodiversity and ecosystems. This will help in developing actions to promote Green Infrastructure, as well as ensuring no net loss of biodiversity. Our work on assessing and valuing ecosystems and their services is linked to international initiatives to promote natural capital accounting for both governments and companies.

I would urge ENCA and its Member Agencies to support these actions. This will help governments and companies towards a greater understanding of the value of biodiversity, and the opportunities that investing in our natural capital will bring.

Concerning business engagement in the biodiversity agenda, there have been many good examples of initiatives taken by progressive companies both in Europe and globally. Many of them are beginning to see the value of reporting on natural capital as well as financial and physical capital. And they want to see a common approach to natural capital reporting. I would encourage companies to develop this and get involved with the global initiative on natural capital accounting.

The Commission will also work with organisations such as the EIB on creating financial instruments that enable and facilitate private investment in biodiversity. Engagement with business through initiatives such as the EU Business and Biodiversity platform, as well as national initiatives, are also useful.

Despite progress made in the last years, we are still facing many challenges. The only way forward is working together. Your work has been very valuable. I hope the Commission can continue to count on your support to push forward the biodiversity agenda. And we need to push forward this agenda without pausing for a single moment.

Thank you.


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