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European Commission

Janez Potočnik

European Commissioner for Environment

Investing in nature is investing in our future

Video message for the 10th World Wilderness Congress

Salamanca, 9 October 2013

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a real pleasure for me to address this global congress, which is focusing on many of the key issues we face in protecting, and restoring wild areas in ways that also benefit our societies. I am sorry I cannot be with you in person.

Europe's nature has been very strongly shaped by millennia of dense human intervention, more so than other continents. In spite of the impact this has had, we have still managed to maintain a lot of valuable nature and biodiversity which we are all committed to conserving and restoring.

Through its Biodiversity Strategy, the EU has set itself the objective of halting and reversing the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services by 2020. The Natura 2000 network of areas of high biodiversity value is critical in helping us achieve this goal.

Natura 2000, with more than 26,000 sites covering 18% of the land area in the EU, as well as an increasing part of our marine waters, is an example of the extraordinary degree of commitment across the EU to promote high standards in nature conservation, adapted to local conditions and cultures.

But Natura 2000 is a much wider concept than just nature protection. It is based on the idea of ensuring both sustainable livelihoods for people and healthy ecosystems in areas which are still rich in nature. I am convinced that a better use of our "natural capital" will underpin many opportunities for sustainable development in the future.

Healthy ecosystems greatly increase our ability to regulate floods and climate, purify water and secure the pollination of our crops. Nature networks, like Natura 2000, also create significant opportunities for recreation and tourism.

These networks are the backbone of Green Infrastructure - on which the European Commission has recently brought forward some ideas. Wilderness and wild areas have an important role to play in strengthening the benefits of Green Infrastructure. They only account for a small part of Natura 2000, but the fact is that almost all the remaining wilderness areas in the EU are covered by the Natura 2000 network. As compared to other areas, these naturally-functioning ecosystems have - in addition to their important contribution to biodiversity - an even greater capacity to deliver some environmental services, as they are likely to be more resilient to external impacts such as climate change. Through their specific potential for nature tourism, they can also offer valuable income and employment to local communities and landowners.

The question is, how can we take action specifically on wilderness and wild areas? The European Parliament has called for greater emphasis on this. We recognise that there are a number of nature networks where so‑called "non-intervention management" will be an important conservation goal. This is why we have developed “Guidelines on Wilderness in Natura 2000” to assist Member States who choose to pursue this management option. We are also in the process of developing a Register to record the remaining wilderness areas in Europe.

However, there is still a great deal to do to restore and manage the sites in the Natura 2000 network effectively. At a time of limited and even shrinking public finances, there is a need to find more cost-effective management solutions to strengthen synergies and integrate nature more successfully into key land use policies.

We are using the EU LIFE fund to help people develop and test practical solutions on the ground. We are seeking to link this support with other sources of private funding and other financial mechanisms in support of biodiversity, such as market-based instruments, could also play a more important role.

We are also working together with our international partners to protect and enhance our common Natural Capital. This will require mobilising the resources necessary to deliver on our commitment under the Convention on Biological Diversity.


Ladies and gentlemen,

Investing in nature is investing in our future. Securing the necessary support for nature in these difficult economic times is not always easy, but I am convinced that nature pays us back many times over. Our analysis shows that every euro invested in Natura 2000 yields as much as 50 euro; that is a return on investment that is hard to beat. We need to spread this message more widely and make sure it is understood by our political heads.

I therefore congratulate the organisers of this Conference and the Government of Spain for bringing the World Wilderness Congress to Europe and I wish you a very successful WILD 10 conference. Thank you for your attention.

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