Europe and Central Asia
27 Feb 2018

Break open the piggy bank & invest in nature!

By Kristina Barnes

As Europe’s leaders debate the post-2020 EU budget, Kristina Barnes (NABU/BirdLife Germany) explains why they need to break open the piggy bank and start investing seriously in nature.


Remember the story of ‘The Three Little Pigs?’ The first little pig builds a house of straw, but a wolf blows it down and devours him. The second little pig builds a house of sticks, and meets with the same fate. But the third little pig is wise; he builds a house of brick strong enough to withstand the big bad wolf’s mighty huff and puff. For centuries, children have been told the moral of this story – the importance of investing time (and money!) in building something that lasts. Indulge me as I put a modern spin on a timeless classic.


"Little pig, little pig, let me come in."
"not by the hair on my chinny chin chin."
"Then I'll huff, and I'll puff, and I'll blow your house in."


“Little pig, little pig, let me come in!”

There is a big bad wolf growling at our door and it’s the global nature, climate and biodiversity crisis. Our health and wellbeing, and that of our economy, depends upon thriving ecosystems which provide us with food and drinking water, clean air, fertile soils and renewable resources. But the drastic decline of these ecosystems bodes ill for the future. In Germany alone, more than 12 million (15%) breeding pairs of birds have been lost over the past 12 years. And even in a number of protected areas of the country, flying insects have fallen by 75% in the last 30 years. The likely knock-on effects are no less dramatic: fewer insects puts extra pressure on species already suffering from habitat loss – notably once common farmland birds such as the starling or skylark –  but it also means less pollination and subsequently smaller crop yield.


A house of straw

The European Union’s own experts raise serious concerns about the biodiversity crisis and its broader implications. And to give credit where it is due, the EU is not only home to Natura 2000, the world’s largest network of protected sites –consisting of over 27 000 sites, covering over 18% of the continent – it has also established the best legal tools in the world to protect species and habitats, the EU Birds and Habitats Directives. A thorough ‘Fitness Check’ of the Directives, carried out by the European Commission in 2015, proved irrefutably that this legislation is “fit for purpose”. The estimated economic benefits to society of the Natura 2000 network alone amount to 200-300 billion EUR annually. However, in order to deliver fully on their objectives, financial resources must be ramped up - significantly! Otherwise, what we’re simply left with is a house made of straw.


A house of sticks

Since 2007, attempts have been made to integrate biodiversity funding into a variety of EU funds and instruments – for example, the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development, the European Fund for Regional Development, and the European Fisheries Fund. Only LIFE, a tiny programme managed by the European Commission, has been dedicated specifically to the environment. And though LIFE only receives a mere 0.3% of the entire EU budget, it has proven to be a very efficient tool to finance innovative, and effective, projects. Conversely, the cursory ‘greening measures’ of the other EU funds have failed to deliver. And the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) actually negates the objectives of the EU’s nature laws and biodiversity targets. Without appropriately funded targeted conservation measures, the house the EU has built - its own legal requirements and international commitments - is simply a house made of sticks.


German farmland © Hans Peeters


I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll blow your house in…

These houses of straw and sticks are in real danger of being blown down. The Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP) suggests that EU funding currently covers, at most, 20% of estimated costs of managing the Natura 2000 network, and that national funding is insufficient to fill the remaining gap. Recent studies show that the cost of implementing the Nature Directives in Germany have more than doubled (from 630 million to 1,4 billion EUR per year) since 2010. Presuming that funding needs for Natura 2000 have increased or were underestimated at a similar rate in other Member States, and adding wider biodiversity measures, BirdLife estimates that annual EU-wide costs would amount to at least 20 Billion EUR.


A house of brick

Last September, BirdLife Europe and its EU partners published their joint position ‘For an EU budget serving nature and people’. Given the EUs international commitments and legal obligations – and the need to support biodiversity rich but economically poor regions of the EU – BirdLife argues that 75% of the cost of protecting biodiversity in the EU should be a shared effort. We need an annual EU budget of 15 billion EUR, exclusively reserved for nature and biodiversity. The obvious place for this fund – which should provide income effective incentives to farmers and other land users to undertake biodiversity measures – is within a reformed CAP. The fund would be co-financed by Member States and its measures would be approved and overseen by the relevant environmental authorities – from local to EU level. At the same time, the LIFE programme should continue to fund innovative ways to reverse biodiversity loss, and accordingly its budget should be increased to at least 1% of the total EU Budget.

As the saying goes, ’money talks’ and if our common European house is going to withstand the packs of hungry wolves gathering at the gate, then we need to break open the piggy bank and invest the time and money in something that will last for our children and our children’s children, and many generations more. We need a house of brick.


Kristina Barnes, Nature Conservation Policy – NABU (BirdLife in Germany)

Stichting BirdLife Europe gratefully acknowledges financial support from the European Commission. All content and opinions expressed on these pages are solely those of Stichting BirdLife Europe. The European Commission is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.