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 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!