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SCALES and governance Green Infrastructure Site selections Management of network of protected areas Biodiversity monitoring and EU policy Ecological Fiscal Transfers Links to key nature conservation policy instruments

Green Infrastructure

Green Infrastructure: Opportunities & Needs for Addressing Scales

Summary of the problem

Current regulatory frameworks are not able to address the scale-related challenges of biodiversity conservation. Challenges include functional connectivity between protected areas across the wider landscape, and difficulties in effectively enhancing conservation of biodiversity within and across broader agricultural and forestry areas. These examples reflect the core of the problem related to implementation of green infrastructure: any solution, which is sought to protect natural capital and secure long-term sustainability beyond protected areas, must involve a broad range of stakeholders across multiple administrative sectors and levels.

Illustrations of threats for green infrastructure

Green infrastructure as a policy response

Green infrastructure (GI) is an emerging policy response to the continuous loss of biodiversity and associated ecosystem services. The aim of the new approach is to promote more holistic policy solutions to protect natural capital. Thus GI is not only a nature conservation matter, but rather calls for proactive, strategic, and coherent actions across all policies influencing ecosystem functions.

The term is appearing more and more frequently in policy documents all over the world and some countries have taken steps towards systematic green infrastructure policies. Though GI has been interpreted slightly differently depending on the context, there seem to be consensus on key characteristics of what constitutes green infrastructure. According to the EU Commission, key features constituting green infrastructure include natural and semi-natural areas with other environmental features designed and managed to deliver a wide range of ecosystem services. It incorporates green and blue (aquatic ecosystems) spaces and other physical features in terrestrial and marine areas, both in rural and urban settings, from local and small-scale (e.g. green roofs) to large-scale, cross-continental planning (e.g. the European Green Belt).

Illustrations of diversity of green infrastructure elements

The central idea behind the policy concept is the understanding of the natural environment as infrastructure, capable of delivering a wide variety of ecological, economic and social benefits. Just as "traditional" infrastructure, such as road systems and mobile networks, requires investment and management, so does GI. Green infrastructure can also substitute often expensive grey infrastructure solutions. For instance wetlands can offer cheaper solutions for water purification than utilization of technical systems. Instead of single purpose technical water purification system, wetlands provide simultaneously a number of other benefits including recreational opportunities, provisioning of habitat for species and flood prevention among others. Investing in GI can thus make simultaneously a significant contribution towards a number of policy objectives.

General recommendations for policy responses

Effective green infrastructure policies call for developing planning and measuring tools that cross sector end ecosystem boundaries. Due to the fact that emerging GI policies will likely rest on existing regulation and decision-making systems to the extent possible, measuring tools developed for green infrastructure should aim at functioning as a bridge that combines information from existing (and new) knowledge systems and feeds it to decision making systems.

Figure 1 indicates the current situation, where decisions are made based on knowledge systems that are segregated to specific habits, ecosystems, geographical areas, and sectors. Figure 2 demonstrates how a green infrastructure approach could potentially reform the situation.

Figure 1: current governance situation. Figure 2: Green infrastructure governance.

How to design green infrastructure across scales

In order to maximize GI benefits, comprehensive policies and actions are needed at different scales. At the EU level the GI strategy will provide an enabling framework for promoting GI initiatives and policies within the context of existing legislation, policy instruments and funding mechanisms (COM(2013)249). However, new policy instruments and changes in existing regulations are needed at the national, regional and local level.

This is particularly essential because GI elements range from protected areas, multi-functional use of farmlands and forests, coastal areas, freshwater and wetlands, management and restoration areas, as well as urban parks, green roofs, and natural or artificial connectivity features. This heterogeneity requires many policy instruments. Furthermore, the dynamics of socio-ecological systems calls for polycentric, participatory and adaptive governance arrangements. While public funding to support the creation and maintenance of green infrastructure is needed, the policy framework should also include elements that create incentives to private investments in green infrastructure.

Application: national context

At the national level there are few examples on rather systematic policies aiming to promote green infrastructure. One of the examples includes Trame verte et bleue (TVB) in France. In England, green infrastructure has been a policy priority for the past years with the main concern of the policy moving increasingly towards landscape connectivity and maintaining the functioning of ecosystem services. Outside Europe, especially the USA has been active in developing green infrastructure policies since the 1990's. For instance, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has launched a strategy to promote the use of green infrastructure to manage the storm waters in towns and cities.

Application: Common Agricultural Policy

The success of GI may largely depend on the coordination of other policies and initiatives, and especially the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). This is because farmland covers 50% of the EU's terrestrial area and dominates much of the landscape surrounding and separating patches of semi-natural and natural habitats. The CAP provides financial support for farmers and land managers and the way this money is spent influences whether agricultural land can serve as green infrastructure or has opposite effects. However, so far the CAP has been successful only partially and locally. This stresses the need for better spatial design and coordination across scales.

This means that an effective design of Green Infrastructure must consider how to use and manage agricultural lands through the CAP. In order to ensure that CAP-funded measures can contribute effectively to developing a multi-functional GI across Europe, they should aim to improve overall habitat quality and connectivity at various scales (especially from the landscape to the regional scale) by adopting somewhat different targets at the different spatial and governance levels (Pe'er et al. 2014):

  1. At the EU level, support farms contributing to large-scale connectivity.
  2. At the National level, one approach could be to focus on mosaic landscapes and regions with medium or high cover of semi-natural, sensitive habitats. Note that Member States are currently allowed to reduce the requirements for Ecological Focus Areas from 5 to 2.5% in areas that already comprise large proportion of protected areas or forests. This may weaken Green Infrastructure.
  3. At the landscape level, seek to maintain spatial heterogeneity and/or landscape mosaics; maintain semi-natural habitats at a size that meets the minimum area requirements of relevant species; enhance connectivity between them; and target buffer areas next to or between existing protected areas or other sensitive areas, so as to reduce spill-over effects and maximise ecosystem service provision.

Links to initiatives

The GI consortium

Useful links


Barthod & Deshayes (2009) Trame verte et bleue, the French green and blue infrastructure, European Commission workshop of Europe 25 – 6 March 2009 Bryssel.

Benedict, M. A. & McMahon, E. T. (2006) Green Infrastructure –Linking Landscapes and Communities. Island Press Washington

COM(2013)249 Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, council, the european Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions. Green Infratsructure (GI) - Enhancing Europe´s Natural Capital.

Frischmann, B. (2012) Infrastructure. The Social Value of Shared Recourses. Oxford University Press.

Kettunen, M., Apostolopoulou, E., Cent, J., Paloniemi, R., Koivulehto, M., Letourneau, A., Scott, A., Bormpoudakis, D., Primmer, E. Similä, Pietrzyk-Kaszyńska, A., Grodzińska-Jurczak, M., Mathevet, R., McConville, A. and Henle, K. (2012). An assessment of the scale-related requirements of EU biodiversity policy to 2020 (FP7 SCALES Deliverable).

Kettunen M, Apostolopoulou E, Bormpoudakis D, Cent J, Letourneau A, Koivulehto M, Paloniemi R, Grodzińska-Jurczak M, Mathevet R, Scott AV, Borgström S (2014) EU Green Infrastructure: Opportunities and the need for addressing scale. In: Henle K, Potts SG, Kunin WE, Matsinos YG, Similä J, Pantis JD, Grobelnik V, Penev L, Settele J (Eds) Scaling in Ecology and Biodiversity Conservation. Pensoft Publishers, Sofia, 128-132.

Mazza L., Bennett G., De Nocker L., Gantioler S., Losarcos L., Margerison C., Kaphengst T., McConville A., Rayment M., ten Brink P., Tucker G.,van Diggelen R. 2011. Green Infrastructure Implementation and Efficiency. Final report for the European Commission, DG Environment on Contract ENV.B.2/SER/2010/0059. Institute for European Environmental Policy, Brussels and London.

Pe'er et al. 2014. EU agricultural reform fails on biodiversity. Science 344:1090-1092

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