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.
Habitat loss, degradation and fragmentation are by far the biggest drivers of terrestrial biodiversity loss at EU level over the past 50 years. 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 In addition, traditional land use practices have been replaced by more intensive, mechanised and industrial-scale activities, especially in the agricultural and forestry sectors.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.
If ecosystems become too small, depleted or isolated, they may stop providing us with valuable services such as food and freshwater. These pressures have also major consequences for the long term functioning of protected area networks such as Natura 2000 – with sites frequently being ‘islands’ in a landscape that does not allow for dispersal and genetic exchange.
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. Its added value however comes from broader investments in natural capital with a view to 'greening' existing infrastructure and strengthening the functionality of ecosystems for delivering goods and services as well as mitigating and adapting to climate change effects, and enhancing the quality of life (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.
The European Commission has adopted a Green Infrastructure Strategy, 'to promote the deployment of green infrastructure in the EU in urban and rural areas'.
- Communication from the Commission: Green Infrastructure (GI) (COM(2013) 249 final)
- Green infrastructure and territorial cohesion (EEA report)
- Spatial analysis of green infrastructure in Europe (EEA report)
- Building a Green Infrastructure for Europe
- The guide to multi-benefit cohesion policy investments in nature and green infrastructure
- Connecting Smart and Sustainable Growth through Smart Specialisation - A practical guide for ERDF managing authorities
- LIFE building up Europe’s green infrastructure
- Green Infrastructure Sustainable Investments for the Benefit of Both People and Nature
- Enriching our society through natural solutions: Why and how to make Green Infrastructure projects a sustainable answer for ecological, social and economic problems?