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European Commission

Janez Potočnik

European Commissioner for Environment

Investing in nature protection is investing in our own future

Celebrating the 20 Years' anniversary of the Habitats Directive, Natura 2000 and the LIFE Regulation - EUROPARC annual Conference

Genk, 22 October 2012

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Dear friends of Nature,

It’s a real pleasure to be here today to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the Habitats Directive, Natura 2000 and the LIFE Instrument.

Just yesterday I returned from Hyderabad - from the XI Conference of Parties of the CBD (Convention on Biological Diversity). We secured there endorsement of a "Hyderabad resource mobilisation package", which allowed to maintain the CBD's momentum since Nagoya and reaffirm Parties' full commitment to the implementation of the Strategic Plan 2011 - 2020 and its 20 Aichi targets, as well as of the Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit Sharing. Quantitative financing target consists in doubling biodiversity-related funding to developing countries by 2015, from a baseline of average annual aid in the period 2006-2010 and at least maintaining this level till 2020. Other important decisions were also reached there: biodiversity safeguards for REDD+; better conservation and more sustainable use of marine biodiversity and the identification of Ecologically or Biologically Significant Areas, and the enhancement of cooperation and synergy within the three Rio Conventions and the biodiversity-related conventions. These were good two weeks for biodiversity, but also for the European Union which clearly emerged from Hyderabad as one of indispensable and decisive global actors. But let us turn back to the reasons which brought us here tonight. This is a key stakeholder forum - with a deep commitment to, and unequalled knowledge and experience in the management of protected areas - so it is particularly fitting that we are here together for this celebration … and we have good reasons to celebrate! The Habitats Directive, together with the Birds Directive, has provided a solid foundation for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity over the past two decades, and has been a key instrument in helping us achieve remarkable results.

As some of you might recall, in 1992 Europe was witnessing continued large scale destruction of areas of high biodiversity value. Today, twenty years later, thanks to the Habitats Directive, Europe has managed to create Natura 2000, the largest coordinated network of protected areas in the world, embracing over 26,000 protected sites that cover almost a fifth of our land territory.

As a result of LIFE projects, approximately 320,000 hectares in Natura 2000 sites have been restored, and 150, 000 hectares have been acquired across the EU for habitat and species conservation. LIFE has targeted 400 species and half of them have actually achieved, thanks to LIFE, the "favourable conservation status" required by the Habitats Directive. This is indeed an extraordinary achievement and one we can all be proud of!

The Habitats Directive has been a real catalyst in bringing Member States together, in strengthening our capacity for action and our knowledge of the status and management needs of species and habitats in Europe. The Directive may not have solved all of our problems, but it has made a real difference… and it is a prime example of the added value of Europe.

These results were possible because we engaged in a joint journey, and because we decided that the Habitats Directive should be more than just words on paper. So, thank you all for the excellent work!

Despite the many successes, however, we have not yet reached our final destination. To be honest we are still quite far from it. Many of the Natura 2000 sites are still in poor conditions and in need of restoration and active management.

Effective management of Natura 2000 will require a very significant investment of resources. According to estimates provided by the Member States this would cost about 5.8 billion euro per year. In these very difficult economic times it is not easy to argue for such sums of money. However, 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 conveyance, water quality maintenance – which are estimated to be worth around €200–300 billion per year, many times more than the cost of managing the network. Natura 2000 could form the backbone of a future “Green Infrastructure” for Europe for which the Commission will set out some ideas in the coming months.

If we want to meet our target of halting and reversing the loss of biodiversity by 2020, we will need renewed energy and engagement, but most of all, we will need the full commitment of all stakeholders - public authorities, private landowners and users, developers, conservation NGOs, scientific experts, local communities and private individuals.

2020 is just around the corner and we still have quite a walk ahead of us. To ensure that we get there we will need to concentrate our efforts, especially in these times of economic austerity. We cannot ignore the economic situation around us. What we need is to make sure that our investments provide multi-benefits. If we manage our approach well, we will not only meet our biodiversity objectives, but we will also contribute to the EU's resource efficiency goals by ensuring that Europe's natural capital is managed sustainably, and we will contribute to climate change mitigation and adaptation targets by improving the resilience of ecosystems and the services they provide… and ultimately we will contribute to our economic growth agenda.

But for this, we all need to move in the same direction.

This is why the Commission has recently initiated, in partnership with Member States and key stakeholder groups, a new set of seminars for each of the Biogeographical Regions of the EU to promote the exchange of experience and expertise on the management of habitats and species of EU conservation concern, especially in the Natura 2000 sites. And we aim to establish a communication platform to facilitate the exchange of best practice and promote networking of experts. Communication will have to be part of our global approach, but alone it will not be enough.

We also need to provide the right policy framework and incentives for those who own and manage Nature 2000 sites, so that they are rewarded for the services they provide. A new enhanced LIFE Programme will allow for a more strategic approach to effectively support integration and improve the capacity of the responsible administrations to manage Natura 2000.

In addition, the Commission has also asked Member States to set out their priorities for Natura 2000 investments for the next EU multi-annual financing period, seizing the opportunities that exist under different EU funds. By promoting a more programmatic approach and fully integrating nature and biodiversity into the Common Agricultural, Fisheries and Cohesion policy funds, we will be able to use the LIFE instrument as a catalyst to lever in other EU and domestic funds, and this way, we will be multiplying the effects of EU funding.

To give you a concrete example: rural development programmes were and still are an important source of funding for ensuring the delivery of our aims. Specific Natura payments and especially agri and forest environment measures now play a prominent role and should even more in the coming period. I look to you to play your part in ensuring this outcome again in the programmes now being prepared at national and regional level.

***

Ladies and gentlemen,

The management and restoration of Natura 2000, improving the knowledge base, building capacity, securing resources, strengthening integration and connecting with citizens are all necessary ingredients to reach our objectives and final destination. You have a key role to play in this. Your experience and expertise in the management of protected sites, as well as your skills in education and communication will be particularly valuable in the coming years.

I note that a central theme of this conference is “RECONNECTING”, which underlines the critical links that we need to make between people and nature. I do not doubt the commitment of Protected Area managers to achieving our common goal of healthy nature as well as in your ability to find new and innovative ways to achieve this objective, including reaching out to the business community. The Hooge Kempen National Park is living evidence of such innovation in the creation and management of protected areas for the benefit of nature and people.

We cannot afford to underestimate the scale of the challenge to deliver an effectively managed network of protected areas across Europe. The stakes are too high. Natura 2000 is not just about nature reserves - which are the jewels in the crown - , but it also includes many privately-owned areas. Natura 2000 is as much about nature as it is about people, it’s as much about our health and well-being as it is about the economy, it’s about our present, our future, and most of all it’s about the legacy we want to leave future generations.

We have a very important responsibility. To quote Guy de Maupassant, Travel, like dreams, is a door that opens from the real world into a world that is yet to be discovered”. I don’t know where this journey will lead us exactly, I don’t know if we will manage to reach our final destination by 2020, but I do know that every step we take in the right direction will make a very important difference in the lives of many, and I do know that it is a journey worth engaging in. I hope you feel the same way. I hope, in fact I know, that nature can continue to count on your support also in the coming years.

Don’t' forget: "Nature Protects if She is Protected'' - this was the guiding motto of the Hyderabad Conference.

Thank you. Also in the Nature's name.


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