The EU’s Solidarity Fund intervenes when major natural disasters occur that overwhelm the capacity of the Member States affected to respond and recover. However, when nature sites of high ecological value, such as protected areas in the Natura 2000 network, suffer from a natural disaster, only the cost of the clean-up operation or restoration work to prevent the immediate effects of soil erosion is taken into account when it comes to assessing, for the purposes of calculating damages, the value of the damage to the environment. That these protected areas have a very high value on account of their removing carbon from the atmosphere, or their air and water purification properties, is ignored.
The EU’s recent biodiversity strategy recognises that investment in natural capital can have a strong economic multiplier effect and that nature has an incalculable value owing to the countless benefits it brings in terms of health, food security and combating climate change.
In a question posed to the European Commission, on 22 September 2020, Spanish Member of the European Parliament Cesar Luena of the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats asked the Commission “would it not agree that the environment’s social and economic value should be recognised in the Solidarity Fund, enabling both the environment and the services it provides to receive proper, safe and fair protection?”
His question was responded to on 02 December, by Cohesion and Reforms Commissioner Elisa Ferreira. She reported that “The European Union Solidarity Fund (EUSF) was created as a budgetary instrument designed to provide EU solidarity by contributing to post-disaster relief in the Member States and accession countries confronted with natural disasters” and “at EU level, the EUSF operates in complementarity with other EU policy instruments, including those aiming at addressing climate adaptation and providing emergency aid”. She further explained that “for the 2021-2027 Multiannual Financial Framework, the Commission has proposed 30% of its total to contribute to climate action and spending on the environment, including protection and restoration of biodiversity, across multiple programmes, to help achieve the European Green Deal objectives”.
Commissioner Ferreira asserted that “the Commission agrees with the Honourable Member that damages incurred to Natura 2000 site through natural disasters may have wider economic implications and costs that go beyond those that can be mitigated through site rehabilitation and clean-up measures, for which the EUSF compensates the public authorities”.
In ending, Commissioner Ferreira concluded that “EU Member States should use other available EU policy instruments to invest more in preventive measures — disaster risk management and investments that deal with climate adaptation challenges to help protecting Natura 2000 sites”.
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