BEST: Catalytic impact for Europe overseas

All actors have to join forces to make BEST a success, and the funding available should be used strategically for action oriented projects. This was the major call of the first meeting on the support for BEST, a voluntary scheme to promote the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity and ecosystem services in Europe overseas. The meeting was hosted at the European Parliament on the 11 April 2011.

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The European Union (EU) has approved 2 million euros to finance the BEST preparatory action in 2011. One of the key supporters of BEST, Mr Maurice Ponga, Member of the European Parliament and co-chair of the subgroup on Islands and Overseas Entities of the European Parliament Intergroup on Climate Change, Biodiversity and Sustainable Development, said that “Europe’s overseas territories are true reservoirs of the EU’s plant and animal species. Being concerned about the protection of this wealth, I'm really happy that the BEST initiative has been made possible”.

Hon. Reuben T. Meade, Chief Minister of the Government of Montserrat and President of the Overseas Countries and Territories Association (OCTA) added that “conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity should go hand-in-hand with other sustainable development projects all geared towards the enhanced quality of life for local people. Sound management of biological resources (such as coral reefs and forests) can lead to climate resilience of natural ecosystems and physical capital. Climate resilience is a critical issue for Montserrat and other EU overseas territories within the Caribbean. We are small island territories situated in the Hurricane Belt”.

Biodiversity and climate change issues therefore should be linked together from the very beginning" said Mr Etienne Coyette, Climate Change Policy Coordinator at the European Commission’s DG EuropeAid Development and Cooperation. He affirmed “we are not starting from scratch. BEST could strengthen already existing initiatives such as the EU’s Global Climate Change Alliance”.

Mrs Karin Zaunberger, Policy Officer for Biodiversity at the European Commission’s DG Environment continued saying that “BEST is a possible low input high output scheme with multiple benefits. The preparatory action provides a unique opportunity to demonstrate the value of BEST through real examples and prepare the ground for continuity. Strategic thinking, solidarity and collaboration should lead the way”.

This is a key moment for BEST and the available money should indeed be used strategically for joint projects orientated to action” stressed Mr Jean-Philippe Palasi, Director for EU Policy at the European office of Conservation International.

BEST is also a unique strategic opportunity for the EU on the international scale. “Europe’s overseas territories can potentially make a major contribution to EU international commitments to the CBD Nagoya and the UNFCCC Cancun outcomes. BEST can have an important catalytic impact on how biodiversity and climate change issues in Europe overseas are addressed by the EU, both domestically and internationally” added Ms Dominique Benzaken, Coordinator of the IUCN EU Outermost Regions and Overseas Countries and Territories Programme.

One of the issues is an access to funding for conservation and management of our biodiversity” Mr Meade pointed out. “Most agencies which provide support tend to exclude the EU overseas territories, indicating that this function is for the governing state. The EU overseas territories are indeed pleased that BEST is being introduced in order to provide this critical support.” It is important though to ensure that the access to BEST is sufficiently simple to correlate with the capacity territories are able to fulfill.

Mr Meade concluded that “BEST is a vehicle by which Europe’s overseas territories will be able to realize the social and economic benefits from conservation and sustainable use of their exceptional biodiversity”.

Mr Ponga expressed the hope that the preparatory action of BEST will sustain and be renewed for the coming years. He added that “it is in our interest to work together to optimize activities on environmental protection in Europe overseas and BEST is an excellent opportunity. Hence it is crucial that all actors overseas mobilize for the success of BEST by developing effective programmes to protect overseas biodiversity and ecosystems”.

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