There is less than one month left for Member States to submit their national recovery and resilience plans to the European Commission. Yet, the Latvian plan is still far from fulfilling the Commission’s requirements to allocate at least 37% of proposed measures to achieving climate objectives.
Rolands Ratfelders, Green Liberty | 8 April 2021
In its current form, the draft Latvian recovery plan still has numerous gaps and needs significant revisions. The plan simply ignores biodiversity, and includes a set of highly questionable investments, which if approved, can have a potentially negative effect both on biodiversity and climate. It is also not clear how the ‘do no significant harm’ principle will be respected. This is problematic because the European Commission’s guidelines require Member States to think in terms of quality spending. States should explain how recovery and resilience plans will contribute to wider environmental goals under the European Green Deal, including the objectives of the Biodiversity Strategy for 2030. Several Latvian green organisations, including Zaļā brīvība (Green Liberty), Latvijas Dabas fonds (Latvian Fund for Nature), Pasaules Dabas Fonds (WWF’s associated partner in Latvia), and Latvian Ornithological Society (BirdLife Partner) prepared a joint assessment of the draft recovery plan and submitted suggestions on 9 March to the Ministry of Finance as the ones in charge of preparing the national recovery plan.
Irrigation activities go against biodiversity strategy
The draft plan foresees “Investments in flood risk reduction infrastructure, including renovation of polder pumping stations, renovation of protective dams, renovation of regulated sections of rivers”. This is something that goes against the EU’s Biodiversity Strategy 2030, which aims to put biodiversity in Europe on a path to recovery and contains specific actions and commitments to protect nature and reverse the degradation of ecosystems. At the same time, other EU funds like LIFE and the Structural and Investment Funds for years support activities that go in the opposite direction, including restoration of irrigated areas and wetland habitats (like floodplain meadows and mires).
Irrigation activities are therefore often at odds with EU nature protection and biodiversity policy.
Wetlands also play an important role in carbon sequestration. That is why any draining activities need to be carefully assessed in the context of climate change and biodiversity protection.
Afforestation is not always green and climate-friendly
Another point of concern for biodiversity in the Latvian plan is the foreseen support to commercial forestry actions, including the replacement of unproductive forest stands, afforestation and management of young forest stands. These activities look green and sustainable at first glance but can be very harmful to biodiversity. Replacement of unproductive forest stands means in reality clear-cuts. This forest management method is not sustainable. It is both harmful to the environment and nature. Clear-cuts release huge amounts of CO2 captured in the trees. They also may destroy biologically-valuable forest stands and habitats of EU importance. Clear-cuts are a commercial forest management approach that reduces biodiversity. Also, the thinning of young forest stands is something that is being done in commercial forests after clear-cuts. Such activities serve private commercial interests only and therefore should not be financed by the Recovery and Resilience Facility. Afforestation also seems green at first glance. Yet, it is not so if it happens at the expense of protected grassland habitats. The conservation status of grassland and meadow habitats of EU importance is highly unfavorable, not just in Latvia but across Europe. Therefore, these vulnerable habitats should not be risked by supporting afforestation activities in Latvia and other forestry-oriented countries. Activities promoting harmful forestry models should not be supported by the financial instrument from which 37% is aimed to support climate action.
It’s time to invest in biodiversity
Only 10 per cent of all habitats of EU importance in Latvia are in a good state.
Similarly to the rest of Europe, where 81 percent of habitats are in ‘poor condition’ as a recent European Environmental Agency (EEA) report shows, Latvia faces a dire situation that will only become worse without swift action. The EU’s Biodiversity Strategy 2030 requires significant investments for nature protection in the coming years, meaning urgent reforms and systemic solutions for biodiversity. The Recovery and Resilience Facility can bring funds to address this crisis. Recently 27 environmental organisations have signed a joint position paper on mainstreaming biodiversity conservation and nature-based solutions in the recovery plans. Accordingly, Latvian green organisations have proposed a set of biodiversity and climate-targeted actions to be included in the Latvian recovery plan, many of which can be well applied in other EU countries. The recovery plan should promote sustainable management of private lands as well as the development of existing and new natural areas. It should also help with the implementation of the EU’s Birds and Habitats Directives, EU Biodiversity Strategy 2030 and European Green Deal.
The proposed biodiversity investments must address the following important biodiversity conservation aspects:
- Development and management of the network of protected areas of EU importance (Natura2000);
- Enhancing connectivity of Natura 2000 sites;
- Restoration, maintenance, and improvement of the quality of habitats of EU importance;
- Restoration and creation of new wetlands;
- Combating invasive species;
- Development of nature tourism infrastructure.
Following the Commission’s guidelines on the reform-oriented approach in the development of recovery plans, green organisations have also proposed the development of the so-called ‘Payments for Ecosystem Services’ system. Such a mechanism would enable a voluntary system of payments for ecosystem services. This means that businesses would have an opportunity to make their voluntary financial contributions to the climate change mitigation scheme. These contributions would be then used by landowners, municipalities, businesses, and NGOs to implement climate change mitigation measures and support biodiversity.
The Latvian recovery plan currently lacks ambition for reaching environmental goals and the planned actions do not include any real reforms.
Yet it is still possible to elaborate investments into biodiversity conservation and include these in the plan. This will not only benefit the environment and climate but will also deliver a set of economic benefits to ensure economic growth, job creation, and better health and human welfare. This, in turn, will help to deliver green and sustainable recovery both in Latvia and throughout the EU.
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Institution: EU Funds
Theme: Recovery Fund | National Recovery and Resilience Plan | Recovery and Resilience Facility | EU Recovery Fund