Commission gives new ‘LIFE’ to environment financing


The European Commission yesterday (12 December) called for a 52% increase in funding for the Financial Instrument for the Environment and an expansion of the programme to combat climate change.

The EU executive approved an expansion of the so-called LIFE programme, including a rise in funding to €3.2 billion for the 2014-2020 budget, up from the current €2.1 billion package that expires in 2013.

The proposal includes €800 million for climate action and would encourage 'integrated' financing of environmental projects using money from other EU sources, governments and private organisations.

Environment Commissioner Janez Poto?nik said the proposal represents a “serious increase” for a programme that has helped finance environmental initiatives at the local and regional level the EU, as well as in some candidate and accession countries, since 1992.

But environmental groups said the proposal was too timid.

“LIFE is one of Europe’s big success stories, delivering huge public benefits to nature and our well-being for a tiny bit of investment,” said Ariel Brunner, head EU policy at BirdLife Europe, a coalition of conservation organisations.

A BirdLife statement called for a LIFE budget of at least €10 billion.

More flexibility sought

The Commission wants to make co-financing more flexible and to accelerate financial approval for local and regional projects to prevent what EU officials and some beneficiaries have said is a weighty approval process that discourages innovation and action.

Before the proposal was adopted by the Commission, Poto?nik also said changes were intended to better coordinate environmental projects across EU programmes, opening the possibility of coordinated planning with projects financed through the Common Agricultural Policy’s rural development funds.

The Commission estimates that the new programme would help regional governments improve waste and water management. It would also improve air quality for 10% of the EU population, or 50 million people, Poto?nik said.

Asked by EURACTIV if the air-quality funding is adequate given recent studies showing a reversal in some pollution-reduction efforts, he defended the targets.

“That’s the philosophy of these integrated projects, so that you pool the money from various sources and [have] much more influence than in the past,” Poto?nik said. “These targets are far from being non-ambitious.”

In recent years, the LIFE programme has funded woodland restoration in Ireland, technology for treating industrial wastewater in Italy, a Dutch project to reduce noise pollution in coastal ports, and phosphate decontamination of several Polish lakes.

Climate Action Commissioner Connie Hedegaard said: "The Commission proposes to triple the funds for climate in the new programme. This will allow us to increase support to regional low-carbon and climate-resilience strategies and small-scale climate projects by SMEs, NGOs and local authorities. Through LIFE, we can also leverage other European and national funds for climate action."

Andreas Baumüller, natural resources and land use chief at WWF's European Policy Office, said: “The Commission only proposes a paltry €3.2 billion investment over the next seven years, representing only 0.3% of the total budget. If we want to face up to the environmental challenges of our time, we need to put our money where our mouth is and make LIFE an effective tool."


The current programme, known as LIFE+, expires in 2013. Like the current proposals, LIFE+ also was intended to streamline funding. During debate over the programme five years ago, some proposals were criticised in the European Parliament for creating too much paperwork and Commission oversight of project proposals.

Also in 2007, the Greens/European Free Alliance in Parliament sought a significant boost in the LIFE budget, eventually winning a marginal increase of €40 million, bringing total funding to €2.1 billion.

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