The European Commission defines Green Infrastructure (GI) as: a strategically planned network of natural and semi-natural areas with other environmental features designed and managed to deliver a wide range of ecosystem services. It incorporates green spaces (or blue if aquatic ecosystems are concerned) and other physical features in terrestrial (including coastal) and marine areas. On land, GI is present in rural and urban settings.
Source: European Commission, 2013. Building a Green Infrastructure for Europe.
According to the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, Europe’s territory is more fragmented than any other continent. This is largely due to the fact that vast areas have been transformed into urban zones or cut up by transport infrastructures. In addition, traditional land use practices have been replaced by more intensive, mechanised and industrial-scale activities, especially in the agricultural and forestry sectors. This has weakened the resilience of once biodiversity-rich ecosystems. Habitat loss, degradation and fragmentation are by far the biggest drivers of terrestrial biodiversity loss at EU level over the past 50 years.
Valuable services — such as food and freshwater — might get lost if ecosystems become too small, depleted or isolated. These pressures have also major consequences for the long term functioning of protected area networks such as Natura 2000. Protected sites are frequently becoming ‘islands’ in a landscape that does not allow for dispersal of various species and genetic exchange between populations of the same species.
Europe’s main contribution to reverse this trend and to link and strengthen various ecosystems in urban and rural areas is through Green Infrastructure. It consists of spatially or functionally connected areas which maintain ecological coherence as an essential condition for healthy ecosystems. Added value of green infrastructure, however, comes from its capacity to attract broader investments in natural capital. More direct benefits include ‘greening’ the existing infrastructure, strengthening the functionality of ecosystems for delivering goods and services, mitigating and adapting to climate change effects, as well as enhancing the quality of life in general (through e.g. health, tourism, conserving historic and cultural heritage).
Green Infrastructure is built up of natural and man-made, rural and urban elements. It encompasses ecological networks, by ensuring the ecological coherence of the Natura 2000 Network. Green Infrastructure includes reforestation zones, green bridges and green roofs, green urban areas, fish migration channels, floodplain restoration and flood-retention facilities as well as natural areas, high-value farmland and forest areas, which demonstrate the advantages of nature-based solutions to purely technical ones, or innovative planning approaches for intelligent, multi-purpose land use.
In 2013 the European Commission has adopted a Green Infrastructure Strategy, ‘to promote the deployment of green infrastructure in the EU in urban and rural areas”, (see the communication from the Commission: Green Infrastructure (GI) (COM(2013) 249 final)
Action 6b under target 2 of the EU biodiversity strategy to 2020 sets priorities to restore and promote the use of green infrastructure. For further information on the progress against target 2 see the results of the mid term review of the EU biodiveristy strategy to 2020 and specific the assessment for action 6b.