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European Union and nature preservation: a win-win bond

The European elections are approaching and we tried to understand how Europe has helped us to protect the environment more effectively than we could have done as a single state.

It all started with two key directives: the Birds Directive (79/409/EEC) and the Habitats Directive (92/43/EEC). The Birds Directive was the first about nature conservation and still guarantees the protection of approximately 30 species at risk of extinction and puts severe constraints hunters.

The Habitats Directive introduced the Natura 2000 network, a set of approximately 26,000 protected areas preserving member state natural habitats, wild flora and fauna. To date, the Natura 2000 network covers about 20% of European territory and 21% of the Italian territory, a true source of wealth for our continent. A study released last year by the European Commission monetised the benefits Europeans draw from Natura 2000 using the ecosystem services approach.

The results are amazing. Natura 2000 guarantees every year storage of 9.6 billion tons of carbon, equivalent to 35 billion tons of carbon dioxide, with an estimated value of between 600 and 1.13 trillion €. In addition, about 4.4 million jobs and € 405 billion of annual revenues depend directly on the maintenance of healthy ecosystems.

With regard to the natural disaster prevention, Natura 2000 is crucial to mitigate their effects at lower costs than those that would involve human intervention. In the site of Kalkense Meersen in Belgium it has been estimated that the recovery of the original river landscape generates benefits in terms of flood mitigation for a value of between 640,000 and € 1,650,000 € per year.

In terms of food security it has been estimated that insect pollination in Europe is worth approximately 14 billion € per year. Much of this essential service is provided by areas falling within the Natura 2000 network, given that 38% of these areas consists of agricultural zones.

Tourism is another sector that benefitting from Natura 2000, as it is estimated that the expenditure incurred by the visitors of Natura 2000 sites is between 50 and 85 billion € per year and that the number of jobs created in the sector falls between 4.8 and 8 million .

Last but not least is the service of water purification that guarantees to major European cities such as Monaco, Vienna, Oslo and Berlin with a constant clean water reserve. Thanks to the transfer of benefits is estimated that the annual economic benefits of water purification vary from 7 to 16 million € and those related to the supply are between 12 and 91 million € for each of the four cities mentioned above.

Ultimately, it seems that the money spent from Europe to create this network has paid back. Studies carried out in Scotland, France and Finland have revealed that the investment made in the protection of these sites have paid back 7 times the expenses. Would it have been possible without Europe?