€3 cents for nature

The EU Habitats Directive is 20 years old. The Habitats Directive was the basis for the European network of conservation areas, Natura 2000 – the largest and one of the most comprehensive networks of protected areas in the world. With some 26,000 sites throughout the European Union, Natura 2000 covers nearly 18% of mainland Europe.

On 25 September, IUCN Europe, European Environmental Bureau (EEB), WWF European Policy Office and EUROPARC Federation organised an event in the European Parliament to celebrate the 20 years of nature protection, but also to remind Members of the European Parliament that the maintenance of the network costs money. The event was hosted by the Rapporteur on Biodiversity at the European Parliament, MEP Gerben Jan Gerbrandy, and Commissioner for Environment Janez Potocnik gave the keynote speech.

It is estimated that managing the Natura 2000 network throughout Europe costs 5.8 billion Euro per year. That sounds a lot, but it equals a cost of 3 cents per day for each EU citizen. As MEP Gerbrandy pointed out, the Dutch Government has taken the one cent coin out of circulation, as it was not worth anything.  So, if one cent means nothing, three cents is three times nothing.

The new EU budget assumes an integrated approach to pay for nature conservation, and Commissioner Potocnik reminded us that he hopes funding for nature conservation will come from agricultural funds, cohesion funds and other sources.  We heard that we have friends in the agricultural community, when MEP Alyn Smith told us that environment and agriculture are two sides of the same coin, and no sustainable agriculture is possible without nature conservation.

Commissioner for Environment – Janez Potocnik

Commissioner Potocnik said: “investing in Natura 2000 is investing in our future”. He reminded us that the LIFE programme is dedicated funding for nature conservation, but Jeremy Wates, Secretary General of EEB stressed that the LIFE Programme is too small. It is currently less than 0.5% of the total budget, and the NGO community sent an open letter not long ago requesting that the Commission increases LIFE funds to 1% of the total budget.  Tony Long from WWF added his voice to the arguments why it is important to support Natura 2000.

Our event served to raise awareness amongst the parliamentarians about the existence of the Natura 2000 network, the achievements in nature conservation during the past 20 years, and the need for secure funding to protect nature and maintain its goods and services.  We are asking the Parliament and the Council to remember the critical need for nature conservation when they are debating the 2014-2020 budget, and cast their votes. After all, 3 cents per person is not a lot!

Integration of Biodiversity into other sectors

The Heads of a number of European Nature Conservation Agencies have established a network (“ENCA-Network”) to strengthen nature conservation in Europe by enhancing cooperation between its members.  I was invited to join ENCA last year and attended the previous meeting (the 10th plenary) in Austria.

10th ENCA meeting in Gumpoldskirchen, Austria
© Umweltbundesamt

Several of the ENCA members are also IUCN Members, and I believe that working with ENCA is an effective way of influencing biodiversity policy and action on the ground in Europe.  I therefore agreed to join the following meeting, which is taking place in Brussels, yesterday and today.

The agenda for this meeting is to discuss integration of biodiversity and ecosystem services in other sectors.  The first day was a reflection on efforts to mainstream biodiversity in European Commission programmes, and in particular the link between biodiversity conservation and business operations in Europe.  I presented our experience with the European Business and Biodiversity  Platform, The Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP) talked about TEEB for Business and “Entreprises pour l’Environnement” presented their French Business and Biodiversity platform.  We also had presentations from industry, notably from one of Europe’s top 5 energy companies, RWE AG and from the European Aggregates Association, UEPG.

From the presentations and the subsequent discussions is is clear that there is no shortage of opportunities for private sector to work with conservation organisations, but it is not yet clear what that means in practical terms.  The ENCA members agreed that they need to reach out to business, and we learned that there is a serious interest from the private sector to work on ecosystem management and biodiversity conservation.

I also realised that we have internal communication challenges.  We are still grappling with the terminology of biodiversity, nature, ecosystems and ecosystem services, and there was confusion what we actually mean when we talk about mainstreaming and what we want from business engagement.  I believe that the private sector representatives are most interested in the goods and services provided by nature, but we were not all in agreement whether this implies that industrial activities will help protect biodiversity.

The other issue for reflection was the need for increased funding to do our work, but the fact that this may be a challenge during the coming EC Budget 2014-2020.  Commissioner Janez Potočnikgave a speech at the evening reception about mainstreaming of biodiversity in the EU programme, and Tony Long from WWF gave us his view during a dinner speech.  The picture is gloomy, with an overall reduction in earmarked funding for biodiversity conservation, the hope that money will be made available through funding from other Directorates, but no certainty that this will actually happen. 

This is where the word integration gets a different meaning, and I left with the feeling that we are fighting a battle at different levels.  IUCN must help its NGO Member lobbyists in Brussels to convince EU decision-makes that funding needs to be made available for nature conservation.  Equally importantly is to use our network in support of our Government Agencies and State Members to help them influence at the EU Member State level how to re-direct funds from other sectors to nature conservation.


The IUCN Congress is over

After more than ten days of debates, presentations, reviews and voting, the IUCN World Conservation Congress is over.  The IUCN Programme is adopted without any problems, IUCN has a President from China, I have a great new team of Councilors from Europe, and we organised a few excellent events that put Europe on the map in Korea.

IUCN President Zhang Xinsheng and IUCN Director-General Julia Marton-Lefèvre
Photo: IUCN

What does the outcome of the Congress mean for IUCN in Europe?  A few immediate thoughts spring to mind:

I had very constructive discussions with a group of the IUCN National Committees in Europe, representing the IUCN membership, and will strengthen collaboration between them, the Secretariat and experts from our scientific Commissions in the coming months and years.  It was good to see several of the European National Committees actively involved in the discussions about Motions and programme development.

We agreed that business and biodiversity is a key issue for Europe, and we will be developing further activities in this area, with involvement from all concerned.  The presentation about our work with the Finnish forest industry was well received, and it was an honour to have Minister Hautala from Finland present at this session.  I just learned that our partner UPM Kymmene is recognised as the 2012 supersector leader in basic resources by the Dow Jones Sustainability Indexes.

Transboundary conservation is important in Europe, especially for our offices in Belgrade and Tbilisi.  I was told that participants were interested to hear about our ongoing work, and it was very nice to have Minister Pentus-Rosimannus from Estonia reflect on our involvement in the European Green Belt.  We will continue to coordinate action in transboundary conservation, together with the World Commission on Protected Areas and relevant Members and partners.  This will include a continuation of our forest governance work in eastern Europe.

I was congratulated on our achievements with the European Red Lists of species.  We will help the European Commission and the Council of Europe to complete outstanding species assessments and start work on Invasive Alien Species and the Red List of Ecosystems.

I had several meetings about coastal management and our work in overseas territories.  This is an important niche for IUCN in Europe, and we will strengthen and expand our ongoing work, in partnership with relevant Members and partners.

There was also a lot of talk about the role of local and regional authorities in IUCN.  In Europe, we are working with ICLEI and others to develop a programme of action for biodiversity conservation in European cities.  This is another priority area for IUCN in Europe.

The Europe office at the World Conservation Congress in Jeju, Korea

Congress is over – the next one will be in four years time!  Where?  That will be decided next year, but I know that Turkey is keen to host it, and if they are successful the next congress will again be in Europe!

I hope you enjoyed reading about the various events and activities of IUCN Europe during the IUCN Congress in Korea.   I want to thank my colleagues again for having put together an interesting programme.

This is my last story about the Congress – my next stories will be “normal” news from Europe.

A Special Cave on Jeju Island

On Thursday morning, I had no specific tasks or appointments in the World Conservation Congress, which gave me the chance to see a little of Jeju Island.  I decided to visit the World Heritage site, Manjang-gul cave.  This is a world class example of a lave tube, and it is inscribed in the World Heritage list because it is rather spectacular.

The cave is a single passage, of which one kilometre is open to the public, which is approximately one third of the total length.  Lave tubes are formed in a very different manner than normal caves in limestone rock.  While traditional cave passages are due to solution and erosion by water of cracks in the limestone, lave tubes are a result of the fact that molten lava flows out from underneath the crust that has cooled and is therefore solid.

The outcome is similar, although lava tubes are generally much simpler structures.  The Manjang-gul cave is one long tube of ten to twenty metres high and wide – it feels like walking in the metro in Paris.  The following photo from the World Heritage record is a good illustration. 

Manjangul cave passage from http://jejueco.com

For my PhD, I carried out research on limestone hydrology, and have seen many caves in my life.  This single, long passage is quite unique, and I understand why IUCN recommended to have it listed as a natural World Heritage site.  Did you know that IUCN reviews all nominations for natural World Heritage, and provides advice to the World Heritage Centre?  It is our responsibility under the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage.

I was impressed with the way the visitor’s facilities in the cave were developed.  Lighting is very discrete.  There are two short raised walkways, but most of the time the visitors walk on the floor of solidified lava.  I did not see any excavations or other damage to the cave, and felt generally quite comfortable with the way it has been developed for tourism.

The entry fee of two thousand Korean Won was remarkably low; it is less than two Swiss Francs.  I think the authorities can more than double the entry fee – I would have been happy to pay five or even ten thousand Korean Won.

If you ever go to Jeju – check it out!

A Georgian Prince in New York

Constantine Sidamon-Eristoff was a Georgian aristocrat and a lifelong New Yorker who became an outspoken environmental watchdog.  He died last year, and in his memory, theIUCN Caucasus Cooperation Centre, in Tbilisi, Georgia, and the Center for Environmental Legal Studies of Pace University School of Law, in New York, USA, have agreed to establish an award honoring leadership in the conservation of nature and natural resources by individuals in Georgia.

The agreement was signed at the World Conservation Congress, and I was happy to be part of the short ceremony, which we did in the presence of the current and the new Chairs of the IUCN Commission on Environmental Law.


A prince whose family nobility dates back to the 15th century in what is now the Republic of Georgia, Mr. Sidamon-Eristoff lived in New York and became a true conservationist in and around New York City.

During his career, he was the city’s highway commissioner, head of its Transportation Department, and a member of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, and the Chair of Audubon New York, the first state office of the National Audubon Society (an IUCN Member), which led the way for other state offices.

From 1989 to 1993, Mr. Sidamon-Eristoff headed the Environmental Protection Agency’s New York region.  In this role, he argued that the city should compensate upstate communities for limiting development that was endangering the city’s reservoirs, thus being one of the first to promote the concept of “Payment for Ecosystem Services”, and an early advocate of the IUCN concept of “Nature-based solutions”.

I am proud to help to keep his memory alive.

Recommendations and Resolutions

One of the key activities during the IUCN World Conservation Congress is the review and adoption of motions.  Motions may take the form of a resolution or a recommendation.  Resolutions are directed to IUCN itself, and recommendations are directed to third parties.  176 motions have been proposed in total, one third more than in Barcelona.  I was astounded to learn that one quarter of the motions were prepared by IUCN Members from Europe.

IUCN Members have reviewed every morning during the Congress a selection of motions that reflected the discussions in the Forum the day before.  This was a new arrangement, trying to link the Forum debates in workshops, pavilions and knowledge cafés with the “official” sessions of the General Assembly.

The motions process is not easy.  One criticism is that there are too many motions.  It is true that more than 170 motions makes is difficult to devote enough time to each of them, but on the other hand the volume and variety of issues is a reflection of the strengths of IUCN.  Another problem has been that in the plenary all motions are available on the web, but if all participants are on-line at the same time, and some are using internet search engines to obtain additional information, the system slows down.  As a result, not all the up-to-date texts were easily accessible.  Finally, the issue of amendments to the original texts arises.  When a motion is controversial or leads to objections or critical questions, often a contact group is convened that discusses the issues off-stage, tries to find compromises to opposing views and come up with a win-win solution.  The text changes, and an amended text goes on the web.  It is important that the final vote incorporates these amendments. 

As you can imagine, participants do ask for the microphone to speak, raise concerns, ask for clarification, or explain their views.  The overall result of these complications is that we are behind time, and tomorrow, Friday 14 September, we may have to work until late at night, as the Congress closes on Saturday 15 September.

There are a number of important motions for Europe.  Apart from some of the globally relevant motions that are relevant the region, such as those regarding the possible membership of local authorities, envisaged changes in statutory Regions, a request to incorporate geodiversity in our Programme and considerations about IUCN’s work on energy, there is also a good number that deal specifically with Europe.

Motions about concerns regarding illegal hunting of migratory birds in the Meditarranean (033), protection of Mavrovo National Park in Macedonia (061) and the need for environmental safeguards regarding oil and gas exploration in the Mediterranean (120) have already been passed.  Tomorrow the Members will discuss a motion about Chagos (177) which invites the Governments of Mauritius and the United Kingdom to jointly develop a management plan for the archipelago, and a recommendation for EU institutions to ensure adequate investments in Europe Overseas, and include the territories in the 2014-2020 LIFE regulations for funding.  Another motion that is particularly relevant to Europe is motion 005, which pertains to the strengthening of the IUCN National and Regional Committees.  This is a motion that is currently being reviewed by a contact group, but the original text is a resolution that calls on the Director General to develop appropriate mechanisms to support a more integrated and lasting participation by National and Regional Committees in the execution of the Union’s Programme, based on the One Programme.

There are other motions relevant for Europe, and all motions will form part of our programme of activities in the coming four years.  I am particularly happy for the ones on national committees and overseas territories, as we can respond with the manpower and technical resources within the Regional Office.  For some other motions, we may need to raise funds and call upon support from our Commission experts and others in the IUCN network.

Conservation Across Borders

When I was asked to give the welcome words at the workshop on trans-boundary conservation yesterday, organised by the German Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (BfN), Korean National Park Service and the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas Transboundary Conservation Specialist Group, I thought back to experiences in my own career, as I have been involved in trans-boundary conservation efforts in different parts of the world.

I started my career in Botswana in the early nineteen eighties, as a District Officer.  I worked for the Ministry of Local Government and Lands, and one of the new ideas discussed for the Region at the time was to create a protected area straddling the borders of Zimbabwe, Mozambique and South Africa.  This trans-frontier conservation area has since been established, and IUCN is working in the Great Limpopo Trans-frontier Conservation Area with assistance from the Italian Government.

In 1989, I joined IUCN in East Africa, and one of the projects that I was responsible for was the Mount Elgon forest conservation project in Uganda. 

In those days, we talked about joining this project in Uganda with conservation efforts on the Kenyan side of the mountain, and had several informal discussions about cross-border measures.  I believe that a trans-boundary project has subsequently been implemented by the East African Community.

My next posting was in Vietnam, where I was involved in the development of a corridor of protected areas along the border between Vietnam and Lao PDR, protecting the critical biodiversity of the Annamite Mountains, and when I worked at the IUCN Regional Office for Asia in Bangkok, I was partially responsible for the development of the Hindu Kush – Karakorum – Himalayatrans-boundary project with assistance from the Italian Government.

Now, I am responsible for the IUCN programme in Europe, and we are involved in several key trans-boundary conservation initiative in Southeastern and Eastern Europe.  I would like to briefly mention three:

  • The Green Belt of Europe is a more than 12,500km long ecological corridor from the Barentz Sea in the north to the Black Sea in the south.  Originally envisaged as the ecological restoration of the former division between East and West Europe, it has transformed into a multi-national, trans-boundary initiative which brings together Members and partners along a common purpose of ecosystem management and restoration.  I learned during the discussions at the workshop, that IUCN is expected to play a stronger role in the initiative, especially by lobbying at the European level for recognition and support of the activities along the green Belt.  I will explore ways and means to do this more efficiently.
  • The Dinaric Arc Initiative is a broad framework of collaboration between several organisations and the countries in the Dinaric mountains, which aims to put in place new specific actions aiming at the preservation of the wealth and integrity of the Dinaric Arc eco-region through the establishment of networks of protected areas and ecological corridors, and support to initiatives for the conservation of its biological diversity and the sustainable management of its resources.  My technical background is in karst hydrology, and the Dinaric Arc is mainly comprised of limestone.  I was in Slovenia recently, and visited Postojna Cave – This is just one of the many important sites in the karst landscape in the Dinaric Arc.  You will notice the water supply sign – karst aquifers are critically important for water management!

  • The Caucasus Cooperation Centre is the IUCN Office in Tbilisi.  It aims to make nature conservation in the southern Caucasus more effective by providing a range of services to all interested and engaged actors in the field.  Our Members and partners in the Caucasus have asked us to focus on two priority trans-programme areas: Biodiversity Conservation and Natural Resources Management.  I have visited Tbilisi several times, but have not yet had the opportunity to visit nature in the southern Caucasus.  This is on the cards for early 2014!

This short history of my personal experiences is why I felt quite comfortable to give a welcome word at a protected area meeting.