A non-descript memo to the EU’s climate commissioner from her director-general could spell the end of attempts to conserve natural habitats through hundreds of small-scale projects across Europe, campaigners say.
The memo, which EurActiv has seen, proposes ending funding for local climate-related projects from an €864 million environmental protection programme called Life, and using the lion’s share of it as public seed money to leverage private sector cash instead.
“The shift to focus on private loans is very worrying, and if this is the direction the Life programme is taking, it could mean the end of conservation for Europe as we know it,” Ariel Brunner, the head of EU policy at BirdLife Europe told EurActiv.
Among the first in line for a funding cut could be ventures aimed at: preserving forests and peatlands, reducing greenhouse gas emissions from Europe’s dairy sector by 20% by 2020 and protecting the 250-300 remaining Saimaa ringed seals in a fragmented chain of Finnish freshwater lakes.
If the new funding regime is extended to environment-related programmes, it could cause the axing of other projects for building urban lakes, improving forest diversity, reintroducing endangered species to the countryside, building wildlife crossings, and ensuring ecological corridors.
Local authorities, academic institutes and NGOs are the major recipients of such funds.
But “no small scale action grants (i.e. Traditional Projects) will be supported” after 2014, says the note to the EU’s climate commissioner, Connie Hedegaard, from the head of the EU’s climate directorate, Jos Delbeke.
“This is very likely to be at odds with the expectation of many Member States’ representatives in the Life Committee,” the memo warns. Getting qualified majority support from EU states will be a “particular challenge,” it adds, “because the traditional projects, which have been the backbone of the programme for the past 20 years, will not be offered through the sub-programme for climate action.”
Beneficiary nations such as Spain and Italy are most likely to rebel in a Life committee meeting that begins today (23 October) to discuss “more concrete ideas” for the proposed new work programme, which will be finally submitted for approval early next year.
Life but not as we know it
Since 1992, the Commission’s Life programme has co-financed over 3,700 pilot or demonstration projects for environmental protection across the EU, to the tune of €2.8 billion. But from next year, it will become a sub-programme of the Commission’s climate directorate, with an increased climate budget of €864 million out of a total €3.46 billion spend, that is shared with the environment directorate and spread across the EU’s 2014-2020 Multi-annual Financial Framework.
Under the new regime, at least 70% of the Life funds will be redirected to supporting financial instruments, while up to 30% could be allocated to integrated funds for larger projects.