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European Commission

Janez Potočnik

European Commissioner for Environment

20 years on – The importance of EU nature protection

"Three for the Tree – Investing in Natura 2000 for future prosperity and well-being" - event organized by WWF European Policy Office, EEB (European Environmental Bureau), EUROPARC, IUCN Regional Office for Europe

Brussels, 25 September 2012

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am delighted to be here today to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Habitats Directive and the Natura 2000 network. As you probably correctly assume, this is not my first celebration, but the message of the importance of both, the Directive and the Network, should be repeated again and again. I am particularly pleased to celebrate this special occasion with you, who have always been among the most effective supporters of nature protection and Natura 2000 network in Europe.

As you know, two decades ago, natural habitats and species were disappearing from the European landscape at an alarming rate. The response of European leaders was the Habitats Directive, which together with the earlier Birds Directive, has created high standards and a system of checks and balances to guarantee that economic and social development go hand-in-hand with the protection of Europe's natural heritage.

As the future showed, this was a very wise decision and the Habitats Directive can be credited, to a large extent, for preserving our most precious natural assets and beginning to address the crisis in biodiversity. I can say with confidence that its biggest success lies in the creation of the Natura 2000 network. These areas of high biodiversity value embrace over 26,000 nature sites and cover almost a fifth of our land territory as well as substantial marine areas. This makes it the largest coordinated network of protected areas in the world. This is an achievement we can all be proud of.

The Directive has not only promoted a system of checks and controls, it has also brought Member States and many people closer together in pursuit of a common objective – the conservation and sustainable use of Europe’s rich natural heritage. Thanks to the Habitats Directive – and the people who on a daily basis work on its implementation – 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, which is also celebrating its 20th anniversary, has played an important role. LIFE continues to be a vital practical outdoor laboratory to develop these partnerships and test new approaches for the cost-effective management and restoration of Natura 2000 areas.

It goes without saying, however, that even more work is ahead of us to secure the favourable conservation statues of European habitats and species. At EU level, only 17 % of the assessments made on the conservation status of the species and habitats listed in the Habitats Directive are favourable. Improving their status is certainly feasible, but we need to ensure full and effective implementation of the nature Directives. This is also central to achieving the EU Biodiversity Strategy objective of halting and reversing the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services by 2020.

***

Ladies and gentlemen,

Investing in Natura 2000 is very much about investing in our own future. Maybe it sounds a bit like a cliché, but I can't help – it is simply truth. Natura 2000 provides us with a whole array of vital ecosystem 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. But not only that, Natura 2000 also provides very significant job opportunities through tourism, recreational and other activities, especially in rural areas, contributing to job creation and growth.

This is why we absolutely have to provide the right policy framework and incentives for those who own and manage Natura 2000 sites, so that they are recognised and rewarded for the essential services they provide.

We 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, we have proposed that in the next Multiannual Financial Framework starting in 2014, nature and biodiversity are fully integrated into the Common Agricultural, Fisheries and Cohesion policy funds. Additionally, we have proposed to extend and increase the LIFE Programme for the next seven years with a particularly strong nature and biodiversity strand.

The Commission has recognised the need for more strategic and consistent financing of Natura 2000. This is why we have requested Member States to submit their assessment of investment needs for Natura 2000 (Prioritised Action Frameworks - PAFs) by the end of this year, and we have asked that subsequent proposals under different EU sectoral funds for nature protection spending in the years 2014-2020, be consistent with these Action Frameworks.

Of course, all of this will only be possible if the Parliament and the Council ensure that the final decisions on the Multiannual Financial Framework retain the provisions for investing in Natura 2000 and biodiversity.

***

Dear friends,

Times are not easy. Many jobs have been lost in recent years. And many are, in the search for quick fixes, pointing in the direction of the strict, for some too strict Nature legislation. I hope we are knowledgeable and responsible enough not to repeat some of the mistakes from the past. There are no quick fixes for the economic and financial crises, but there are simply no fixes for the irreversible damage done to nature. The real positive impacts of the Natura 2000 are yet to come. We have to protect nature without compromising. What we need is: professional management, sufficient funding, and focus on delivery.

The initiatives undertaken by the Commission will certainly allow us to go in the right direction. But alone, as you are well aware of, they will not be sufficient. What we need is to increase awareness that investing in Natura 2000 and wider biodiversity in these difficult economic times, carries much greater benefits than costs. Your initiative "Three for tree" is therefore extremely useful and timely. It explains how a tiny individual contribution of just 3 euro cents per EU citizen per day, can contribute to the achievement of Natura 2000 objectives and long-term sustainability of our economies and societies. An investment certainly worth making.

The Habitats Directive has been a significant achievement so far, but we all have to redouble our efforts to make sure that it will continue to be a success for the next 20 years. The times are not easy also for nature protection, but by working together and sharing the benefits of our work, we can succeed in making sure that our natural capital emerges stronger from the current crisis.

I sincerely hope, no I'm actually sure, that all of you will maintain your commitment and motivation in the years to come, so that at the next anniversary we can celebrate even more achievements of the EU nature legislation and Natura 2000 … for the benefit of nature and for the benefit of people.

Thank you for your support and your endeavour… and thank you for your attention.


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