INTERVIEW: Nature+ development – where does Europe stand?

Gerard Bos, Head of IUCN Global Business and Biodiversity Programme, speaks about Nature+ development and the progress on realizing the green economy in the European region.

Gerard Bos Photo: Gerard Bos

Q: Realizing the green economy is essential to achieve sustainability and it is crucial to conserve biodiversity. Europe is no exception – where do you think Europe stands in its sustainable economic development?

Over the years, Europe has developed the infrastructure to enhance the quality of life of its inhabitants. As a consequence, this has left less space for untouched nature, pristine landscape and wildlife. Although Natura 2000 and other measures aim to protect these areas, pressure on biodiversity and ecosystem is still occurring and is likely to increase. Maintaining biological corridors and the interconnectivity of these biodiversity rich areas is a major challenge for Europe.

Through a very structured and somewhat crowded legislative framework guided by EU Directives, sustainability criteria including biodiversity conservation are being made mandatory for existing industrial operations and new economic developments. However they are not applied with the same rigor in all European countries, and sometimes seem to be in conflict with other regulations promoting economic development. Of the three pillars of sustainability, commonly known as Profit, People and Planet, the “Planet” element may still be the weakest and the one we wish to continue to work with the EU to strengthen it over time.

Q: What do you think are the main challenges for Europe when it comes to greening its economy?

The current financial situation in Europe makes it difficult to focus on new initiatives especially when they are considered to be “expensive” or “nice to have” solutions.

The main effort to promote the green economy in this context should be to prove that green jobs and green projects are cheaper for society in the long term, and that they contribute to a more resilient economy that can resist short-term volatility in all markets. Greening the economy is building an economy that will endure over time as it embeds sustainability as a core element. It might sound like a “nice to have” today but it is a “necessity” in the long-term.

The challenge is to get this message across to all the relevant stakeholders. We believe that the leading businesses that have embraced sustainability in their strategy are already doing this.

Q: How can IUCN help Europe in this process? And what do you think about the role of the EU Business and Biodiversity Platform as a tool in the process?

The EU Business and Biodiversity Platform should leverage and not compete with the individual country platforms that have shared information and knowledge. The EU Platform is a space to highlight:

  • examples of business model transformational change that have happened over the years in Europe.
  • cases where sectors, companies, cities, local authorities or regions have embarked in a journey integrating biodiversity and ecosystem services considerations in their development.
  • successes, roadblocks and learning from failure in order to ensure others can also embark on this journey learning from the frontrunners.

IUCN has developed a new Business Engagement Strategy that aims to drive transformational change in business practices at landscape and seascape level through three entry points (see diagram), aiming to generate benefits for biodiversity and natural resource dependent livelihoods.

Q: What do you expect will be the impact of the IUCN World Conservation Congress for business and biodiversity in Europe?

The IUCN Congress is happening far away from Europe in Jeju, Republic of Korea, but many European representatives from governments, civil society and business will be there to influence, share, listen and discuss. More than 80 events during Congress will involve the business and biodiversity community with reports provided during and after Congress.

Discussions will revolve around the need to scale up business and public policy solutions to biodiversity conservation challenges. Specific sessions are organized around business and biodiversity platforms and the scaling up of efforts towards a green economy. A Business and Economy Pavilion featuring some of these events allow business to meet, greet but most importantly discuss and debate with IUCN Members.

On 8 September 2012, a day-long Business and Ecosystem “Think Tank” takes place. The morning will focus on business solutions and enabling conditions for business to be able to scale up their commitments and actions. In the afternoon, the Think Tank will focus on what governments can do to support businesses by creating the enabling environment and a playing level field for businesses that want to integrate biodiversity and ecosystem values into their business decisions and operations.

The IUCN Regional Office for Europe has a number of specific activities during Congress to illustrate the achievements of European business and biodiversity platforms and to announce a new business engagement in the forestry sector. See here.

Through IUCN, its Members and business networks, we hope to inform and share the learning with those that cannot make it to Jeju. Stay tuned.

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