Introduction: Green infrastructure and the GreenInfraNet project
Local and regional authorities across Europe are facing increasing challenges in ensuring that green spaces deliver a wide range of benefits and services. These include biodiversity conservation and ecosystem services such as the provision of clean water, recreation, natural disaster risk reduction, and climate change mitigation and adaptation.
In recent years a new approach to meeting these challenges has emerged: green infrastructure reconciles biodiversity conservation with other land uses by strengthening the coherence of ecosystems. This can also contribute to climate change mitigation and adaptation and to reducing vulnerability to natural disasters such as flooding. Green infrastructure places biodiversity conservation in a broader policy framework and in closer harmony with other land-use objectives, such as agriculture, forestry and recreation.
The concept of green infrastructure is developing in many European countries and was introduced into EU policy making in the 2009 European Commission White Paper on Adapting to Climate Change. In 2011, the EC adopted a biodiversity strategy aimed at halting the loss of biodiversity in the EU by 2020. The goal is to maintain and enhance ecosystems and their services by promoting green infrastructure and restoring at least 15 percent of degraded ecosystems. To achieve this target, the strategy recommends three closely related actions:
- Improving knowledge of ecosystems and their services in the EU (Action 5)
- Developing a green infrastructure strategy to promote green infrastructure in urban and rural areas in the EU (Action 6)
- Ensuring no net loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services (Action 7)
Building on the strategy, the EC convened a working group to produce recommendations on how to develop a European green infrastructure policy, and also commissioned a series of studies. Further reports have been prepared by the European Environment Agency on green infrastructure and territorial cohesion; and by the EC’s Directorate-General for Regional and Urban Policy on smart and sustainable growth that includes practical guidelines on the role of green infrastructure. The EC has also organised an international conference on green infrastructure.
In May 2013, the EC published the strategy Green Infrastructure — Enhancing Europe’s Natural Capital. The strategy sets out various actions that the EC will take to ensure that green infrastructure is implemented across the EU.
The strategy defines green infrastructure as “A strategically planned network of natural and semi-natural areas with other environmental features designed and managed to deliver a wide range of ecosystem services. It incorporates green spaces (or blue if aquatic ecosystems are concerned) and other physical features in terrestrial (including coastal) and marine areas. On land, green infrastructure is present in rural and urban settings.”
Rather than introducing new green infrastructure measures, the actions outlined in the strategy are based on existing EU instruments across a range of policy areas, including regional and cohesion policies, climate change and environmental policies, disaster risk management, health and consumer policies and the Common Agricultural Policy, along with their associated funding mechanisms.
The main objective of the strategy is to ensure that green infrastructure becomes a standard element of spatial planning and territorial development and that it is fully integrated into the implementation of these policies. Further insights into the valuation of ecosystem services, in particular the social, health and security/resilience benefits of green infrastructure solutions, are important in order to underpin its development.
The EC and the European Investment Bank (EIB) will investigate a number of options for establishing a financing facility to support biodiversity-related investments, including green infrastructure projects. The possibility of introducing a new financial instrument for green infrastructure projects (TEN-G) is also to be investigated.
Specific commitments for action include:
- The development by the EC of technical guidance on how to integrate green infrastructure into the implementation of its policies from 2014 to 2020; and on how innovations in the field of green infrastructure can be financed through other EU instruments.
- The development by the EC of a dedicated IT platform for the exchange of information on green infrastructure.
- The establishment, together with the EIB, of an EU financing facility by 2014 to support green infrastructure projects.
- The review by the EC of progress on developing green infrastructure and the publication of a report, together with recommendations for future action, by the end of 2017.