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Speech - Why protect nature?

Commission Européenne - SPEECH/13/1004   02/12/2013

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European Commission

Janez Potočnik

European Commissioner for Environment

Why protect nature?

Dinaric Arc Conference

Montenegro, 2 December 2013

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure to be here on the occasion of the 2nd Dinaric Arc Parks Conference.

Allow me to start by acknowledging the important contribution of the Dinaric Arc Initiative to the development and implementation of nature policy in the region. It is remarkable how much you have managed to achieve over the past 8 years, and in particular since the "Big Win" event in 2008, including the establishment of new protected areas and the expansion of existing ones. You can be very proud of your work.

The goals you set out in the Initiative have clearly provided a successful framework to help you build up the Dinaric Arc network for protected areas.

I therefore probably don't need to tell you that nature protection brings benefits on many levels: economic, social, cultural and personal. I know you know this as well as I do.

But what do people – ordinary citizens who are not scientists or conservationists – think about nature and the reasons why we should protect it?

In the EU, we carry out regular surveys to find out what people really think. According to the latest Eurobarometer survey on this issue, which was just published last month:

  • Nine out of ten EU citizens agree that it is important to halt biodiversity loss because our well-being and quality of life depends on nature and biodiversity.

  • More than eight out of ten EU citizens agree that it is important because biodiversity is indispensable for the production of goods such as food, fuel and medicines.

  • Three quarters of EU citizens agree that biodiversity is important and that Europe would be economically poorer due to biodiversity loss.

So it seems that the importance of bringing together nature and local development is fairly clear to most people.

In the EU, Member States have together managed to protect one-fifth of EU territory under the Natura 2000 network, which contains ecosystems of high biodiversity value. The Network currently embraces over 26,000 terrestrial and marine sites, making it the largest coordinated network of areas of high biodiversity value anywhere in the world.

The Network provides much more than protection for species and habitats. It preserves countless other valuable species and healthy ecosystems as well. As such, it plays a major role in safeguarding our living natural capital upon which we all depend. Natura 2000 areas can create significant opportunities for recreation and tourism, and related jobs – which helps ensure sustainable livelihoods for people living in and around the areas.

The financial benefits flowing from Natura 2000 are estimated to be in the order of €200 to 300 billion per year, while the costs associated with managing and protecting this important resource are estimated at around €5.8 billion per year. In addition, visitors to Natura 2000 sites generate recreational benefits worth between €5 and €9 billion per annum. Therefore, investing in protected areas makes sense also from an economic perspective.

But we should not forget that nature is everywhere – not just in protected areas. We need to think of ways to encourage investments also in “ordinary” biodiversity. By doing so, not only will we better preserve our natural heritage, but we will also be able to use nature as an answer to other challenges.

This is the idea behind the Green Infrastructure strategy that the European Commission adopted in May this year.

You may ask what Green Infrastructure is exactly? A good example would be a healthy, unfragmented floodplain: whereas a dyke only provides flood prevention, a healthy floodplain provides water filtration and maintenance of the water table. It absorbs pollutants and improves the quality of our freshwater supply. It also stores carbon, and provides interconnected wildlife habitats – and all this while offering opportunities for recreation.

Green Infrastructure can also help other sectors adapt to a changing climate, and contribute to mitigation efforts by improving carbon stocks and greenhouse gas balances.

In addition to all this Green Infrastructures also bring important economic benefits, which can be seen more and more across Europe. These nature-based solutions are often more cost-effective, more resilient and bring more long-term benefits than artificial, heavy infrastructures. If we can manage to scale up green infrastructure investments, then we can boost innovation and drive market opportunities, unlocking more sustainable growth and creating new job opportunities.

Already around 4.4 million jobs in the EU, and over €400 billion in annual turnover, are directly dependent on the maintenance of healthy ecosystems, a significant proportion of which is situated within Natura 2000.

***

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is clear that investing in nature – whether in protected areas or not – is a sound investment – and even more so given current economic constraints, when we need more than ever to invest our money wisely.

Through the Dinaric Arc Initiative, you can help prepare the partner countries to further develop and expand the Natura 2000 network, and foster and strengthen the value of green infrastructure offered by this part of Europe. This will help build resilience in your countries and in the whole of Europe. I strongly encourage you to continue pursuing these goals.

On your way to EU accession, you can benefit from the growth and job opportunities which can come from Europe's efforts to green our economy and invest in resource efficiency, as well as the innovation which is stimulated by the EU's high environmental standards. By working together to protect nature as a common valuable resource, you can increase the efficiency and impact of your actions.

Investing in natural capital, especially in countries such as yours, which have rich biodiversity, will underpin many opportunities for sustainable development in the future.

In closing, I would like to congratulate you again on the Dinaric Arc Initiative and I look forward to hearing in due course about the fruits of your latest endeavours.

Thank you for your attention.


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