Appropriate Assessment of Impacts on Natura 2000 Sites Offers a Real Chance to Save Biodiversity
Situation in the EU
EU has set itself the aim to halt biodiversity loss in the Union by 2020. To that end, EU Habitats and Birds Directives (Nature Directives) have been adopted, under which a pan-European network of nature conservation sites, Natura 2000, was established and is protected. Unfortunately, according to the latest State of Nature report by the European Environmental Agency, biodiversity loss is still continuing at a rapid rate and progress in protection of Natura 2000 sites is modest at best. This can mostly be accounted to poor and uneven application of the EU and Habitats Directives.
J&E and Application of Nature Directives
Throughout their history, J&E and its member organizations have been using EU Nature Directives to deliver stronger arguments in defense of biodiversity. Examples, where the directives contributed to a better state of the environment and helped civil society protect biodiversity, are numerous. To name a few related to J&E work:
in Hungary, a used car battery recycling factory’s plans were scrapped as facility’s planned location was in the famous Hortobagy National Park, part of Natura 2000 network; in Estonia (Ropka) a bridge over an important site for birds was left unbuilt; etc.
During our past work, involving legal aid, case studies and assessment of national legislation, we have often relied on the „appropriate assessment“ mechanism. Simply put, this mechanism requires authorities to carefully assess impacts that proposed plans or projects may have on a Natura 2000 site and in case of danger to integrity of the site refrain from permitting the activity. J&E finds that this mechanism that „puts nature first“ carries a huge potential of actually halting the biodiversity loss in Europe.
Several challenges, however remain. Implementation of the appropriate assessment is neither uniform nor always effective. Causes for it range from lack of knowledge on the rules to lack of assessment of cumulative aspects and poor assessment of plans. To ensure better and more uniform application of appropriate assessment mechanism, J&E aims to raise various stakeholders’ knowledge on the legal requirements of appropriate assessment as well as identify and draw attention to systemic shortcomings and good practices in MS.
2014-2016: „Fitness Check“ by the European Commission
In 2014, European Commission launched a so-called „Fitness Check“ into whether the rules of EU Nature Directives are still relevant or whether they would need to be changed.
As J&E and its members have experienced that the EU Nature Directives provide direly needed additional value on the national level, we too have actively participated in this process. In the first half of 2015, we took a more detailed look into the practice of appropriate assessment. In order to provide evidence of how these rules are applied in Member States and what should be learnt from this, we carried out case studies on Hungary, Croatia and Estonia and composed a summary analysis based on them. These documents were used as part of J&E input to the Fitness Check exercise.
Together with other EU-level NGOs (e.g. EEB and Birdlife) we continue to strive for keeping the Nature Directives unchanged. J&E believes that the legal uncertainty that would follow changing the EU-wide rules would hamper their application, which has not been easy even with the Directives unchanged.
J&E closely follows what is happening with the biodiversity laws of the EU, regularly updating the public via our web page, Facebook page and Twitter account (@JustEnviNet).
Read more about Natura 2000:
This case was compiled for you by Siim Vahtrus, Estonia