A leading voice on protected areas at a crucial time for Europe

Interview with Ignace Schops, President of EUROPARC Federation.

Ignace Schops in the National Park Hoge Kempen

What should Europe bring to the table at the World Parks Congress in terms of key messages?

One key message is that nature conservation works! This of course is an understatement, but it is important to emphasise that the investment in our natural heritage – for example, protected areas, biodiversity hotspots, etc. – strongly benefits our core work on wildlife protection.

Many reports demonstrate the positive effects of biodiversity protection and show that the rate of extinction of species is lower in protected areas. In addition, we need to emphasise the positive outcomes for society. By using nature and nature-based solutions, we can tackle socio-economic problems too. So, in addition to the return on investment, there in an increasing return for society as well.

Another important message is that biodiversity and climate change are two sides of the same coin. At the end of next year, the make-or-break of the international climate policy will be decided at 21st Conference of the Parties to the convention on climate change in Paris. It is vital to point to the close links between biodiversity and climate change, and include this message in the Promise of Sydney.

How important is the IUCN World Parks Congress 2014 for the European Union and European policy-making?

This congress comes at a crucial moment for Europe. It is held at the beginning of a new period for EU policy making, with both the newly-elected European Parliament and the new European Commission beginning their next five-year mandate. Europe has the ambition to have a strong voice in the world on issues relating to sustainability. The IUCN World Parks Congress is a fantastic opportunity to bring world leaders and park managers together and discuss how to evolve in the next decade, and how Europe can take a leadership role in this field.

How can policy-making help promote the sound management of protected areas in Europe?

It is crucial to (re)connect policy with practice, and Europe can take the lead in this. The European Union’s Natura 2000, a network of protected areas in Europe covering one million square kilometres of land and sea, shows how theory can work in practice.

In Europe, how can we engage other sectors beyond environment to invest in protected areas?

We often buy things we don’t need with money we don’t have and an environmental impact we don’t want. And over time, we become aware that there is no business to be done on a dead planet. For quite some years now, we have learned to translate issues regarding biodiversity and wildlife into a language understood by other sectors. Nature-based solutions are inspiring solutions for other sectors as well.

Can you cite one or two examples of how European protected areas are helping to address key challenges, such as food and water security or climate change?

Protected areas are, by definition, key areas in relation to food and water security and climate change. Just think of the value of protected areas for pollinators, clean air and water. It is evident that all European states work hard to comply with EU rules to bring their budget deficit below 3% of GDP. Why isn’t it possible to put the same effort and organisation into meeting the EU biodiversity and climate targets? A civilization flourishes when people plant trees under which they will never sit… for the benefit of future generations. It is up to us to make this shift. The IUCN World Parks Conference is the opportunity to make this possible. 

Ignace Schops was elected in September as the new President of EUROPARC. He is the Director of the Belgian NGO Regionaal Landschap Kempen en Maasland (RLKM), a member of the EU chapter of Club of Rome and Vice President of the largest nature conservation organisation in Flanders, Natuurpunt. In 2008, he received the Goldman Environmental Prize after leading efforts to establish Belgium's first national park. 

Work area: 
Protected Areas
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