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Protecting and improving Europe’s natural capital via green infrastructure

Protecting and improving Europe’s natural capital via green infrastructure

The EU has recently adopted a new strategy for encouraging green infrastructure and for ensuring that the enhancement of natural processes becomes a systematic part of European spatial planning. But why exactly is green infrastructure and why is it important?

The term ‘green infrastructure’ is used to describe spatial planning that uses nature to provide ecological, economic and social benefits by identifying infrastructural solutions that work with nature instead of against it.

Used where it makes economic and environmental sense, it is often cheaper and more durable than alternatives provided through conventional civil engineering. Biodiversity-rich parks, green spaces and fresh air corridors can for example mitigate the negative effects of summer heat waves, and can at the same time make cities more appealing places to live and allow for wildlife to thrive in an urban context.

Living in big cities and spending as much as 90% of our lives indoors has driven a wedge between people and their basic need for nature, making the promotion of green infrastructure and its re-implementation into urban environments especially important, warns architect Tina Peršolja, Aphaia’s expert on green construction and planning.

Green infrastructure, however, does not only make our surroundings more pleasant – it is vital to the survival of our planet, as environmental protection and the fight against climate change are closely intertwined with urban development and industrial policy, a fact we are well aware of in Apahia.


A densely populated continent

And it is a fact that the EU must become aware of as well, as urban sprawl, intensive farming or forestry practices and transportation routes are rapidly fragmenting the densely populated Europe’s natural areas and influencing its ecosystems.

In Europe some 8,000 km² were thus concreted over during the 1990s (representing an increase in artificial areas of 5% in just 10 years), and 15,000 km of new motorways constructed between 1990 and 2003.

The repercussions are vast. In addition to species disappearing, the loss of natural areas means the loss of economically important goods and services, as well as poorer protection from climate change. Intact floodplains, for instance, play an important role in the protection from changed weather patterns, as they alleviate floods by storing water and releasing it back slowly into streams and rivers, while forests store carbon and prevent soil erosion.

Having to find man-made solutions to replace the services that nature offers for free is not only technically challenging but also very expensive, making green infrastructure also very economically viable.


Improving Europe’s natural capital with systematic application of green infrastructure

In reaction the EU has in early May 2013 published a new policy paper putting forward ways in which the EU can protect and improve Europe’s natural capital via the systematic application of green infrastructure across the region.

As green infrastructure projects are now being carried out on a local, regional, national or trans-boundary scale, the EU proposes to make the different scales of green infrastructure interconnected and interdependent, thus maximising its benefits via consistency.

The strategy will also focus on promoting green infrastructure in main policy areas such as agriculture, forestry, nature, water, marine and fisheries, climate change mitigation, transport, energy, disaster prevention and land use policies. By the end of 2013, the EU will develop guidance to show how green infrastructure can be integrated into the implementation of these policies from 2014 to 2020.

In addition, the EU plans on improving research and data, strengthening the knowledge base and promoting innovative technologies that support green infrastructure, all the while improving access to finance for green infrastructure projects. The financing facility is to be set up by 2014.

By the end of 2017, the progress on developing green infrastructure will be renewed and a report on the lessons learnt published, together with recommendations for future action.


Picture: W(isible) Photography

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