Climate change, biodiversity loss, air pollution, unsustainable land use practices, droughts and mental and physical health problems are just some of the many challenges that Europe faces today and which could be solved through investing in nature. Real-life examples of how nature can provide the answers to many of our societal and environmental challenges helps to translate such a premise into tangible action.
This was the aim of the event “How can people and the economy benefit from nature? Stories from citizens” held 7 June 2017, organised by CEEweb for Biodiversity, co-organised by Eurosite, supported by IUCN and hosted by Members of the European Parliament Ms. Sirpa Pietikäinen, Mr Benedek Javor and Mr Pavel Poc. Speakers from different sectors shared their personal experiences of living and working in Natura 2000 sites and the socio-economic benefits that have arisen from collaborating with nature.
Speeches by the hosts and the organisers opened the conference with Ágnes Zólyomi, General Secretary, CEEweb for Biodiversity, Mr Benedek Jávor, Member of the European Parliament; Stefan Versweyveld, President, Eurosite; and Luc Bas, Director, IUCN European Regional Office all mentioning the timeliness of the event following the adoption of the EU Action Plan for nature, people and the economy. Mr Jávor highlighted that the examples presented at this event showcase the wide range of environmental and socio-economic benefits Natura 2000 sites offer and they encourage a better implementation of the Nature Directives and Natura 2000 to improve human well-being and economic health.
The opening speeches were followed by three presentations. Marianne Darbi, Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research showed how nature can address today’s social and economic challenges in the EU. She had three calls for action: use the Sustainable Development Goals as a framework to balance nature’s and society’s needs, use nature-based solutions in an honest manner and in a way that ensures stakeholder engagement, and thirdly, recognise the role of science in the science-policy interface. Marco Fritz, Birgit de Boissezon, European Commission, shared success stories from the EU that showed how innovative solutions from nature can boost our economy. Each example demonstrated the multiple benefits investments in nature-based solutions can bring to people and nature. Finally, Geert De Blust, Research Institute for Nature and Forest (INBO) explained that in order to profit from ecosystem services in a durable and sustainable way, protection is not enough. He argued for adopting an integrated management approach and shared three case studies to illustrate its advantages.
The final session of the afternoon explored stories from citizens who work in Natura 2000 sites. Martin Sobotka, Dobrany, Czech Republic ; Andrei Acs, CAPDD Bihor (Center for Protected Areas and Sustainable Development), Romania; Carlotta Maggio, Terre dell’Oasi, Italy; and Benno Geertsma, Natuurpunt, Belgium shared the challenges and opportunities of working in these areas and the potential benefits they still have to offer. The event closed with participants tasting the fruit of the labour being carried out in these Natura 2000 sites with local produce from Italy and local beer from Belgium.
“To ensure long-term sustainable planning, the real value of nature needs to be considered in decision-making; real-life evidence is crucial to convince those taking decisions of this kind,” said Luc Bas, Director of IUCN European Regional Office.