Green infrastructure in Croatia
1. POLICY SETTING
- The Strategy and Action Plan for the Protection of Biological and Landscape diversity of the Republic of Croatia (NBSAP) (OG 143/08) (Ministry of Environmental and Nature Protection) is the fundamental document for nature protection, laying down long-term objectives and guidelines for the conservation of biological and landscape diversity and protected natural values, and methods for implementation thereof, in accordance with the overall economic, social and cultural development of the Republic of Croatia.
- The Nature Protection Act (OG 80/2013) (Ministry of Environmental and Nature Protection) defines 9 categories of spatial protection, and the most valuable protected areas comprise two strict reserves, eight national parks and eleven nature parks. Green Infrastructure is recognized as a term in this act.
- Action towards Target 2, action 6a, of the EU Biodiversity Strategy: The process of preparation and designation of management plans for protected areas and sites of ecological network has significantly intensified. A number of activities related to assessment of the values of biodiversity and economic valuation of its ecosystem services have been initiated (BISE, n.d.).
- Action towards Target 2 action 6b, of the EU Biodiversity Strategy: Most natural habitats are decreasing: watercourses and adjacent wetlands due to regulation works; coastal habitats due to building and tourism related activities; grasslands overgrowing due to ceasing of traditional use - mowing and grazing. Fragmentation of habitats was increased due to increased building of highways and other roads. Although the construction of roads and other transport routes results in habitat fragmentation, potential threats to large carnivores from highway construction have been reduced through the construction of green bridges, serving as animal corridors. Monitoring of existing crossings proves that crossings are highly effective and used regularly by large carnivores and other animals (BISE, n.d.).
- The largest floodwater retention area in the Central Sava Basin is located in the Lonjsko Polje Nature Park, combining the ecological and landscape diversity values of natural floodplains and wetlands with the storage of floodwaters of the Sava River.
- DRAVA LIFE - Integrated River Management (12/2015 – 11/2020) - first inter-sectorial cooperation and integrated management initiative focusing on Croatian rivers. It aims to solve river ecosystem problems, increase pristine, dynamic river habitats, preserve and create new floodplain waters and improve water level dynamics as well as increase awareness of Natura 2000 sites in Croatia.
2. IMPLEMENTATION OF GREEN INFRASTRUCTURE
- IBM - Central Posavina - Wading toward Integrated Basin Management (2006-2008) - The IBM project successfully improved the long-term conservation prospects for the Lonjsko Polje Nature Park and associated flood plains by achieving agreement of an official Management Plan for the park and the establishment of a Programme for Integrated River-Basin Management in Central Posavina.
- Croatia is included in the European Green Belt which follows the Mura and Drava flows (border with HU). The Drava and Mura Rivers and related sections of the Danube span Austria, Croatia, Hungary, Serbia and Slovenia. The rivers form a 700 kilometre long “green belt” connecting almost 1,000,000 hectares of highly valuable natural and cultural landscapes from all five countries. The transboundary UNESCO Biosphere Reserve “Mura-Drava-Danube” combines the cluster of 13 protected areas along the Mura-Drava-Danube region and helps to jointly manage the shared river ecosystem in a sustainable manner while boosting economic growth and development in the region. (WWF, n.d.)
- Green Bridges: The highway from Zagreb to Split goes through many tunnels, and along several of the more open stretches, “green bridges” have been constructed. Studies have shown that all kinds of larger mammals use the bridges, including brown bear, wolf, wild boar, and red deer (Rewilding Europe, n.d.).
- Zadar participates in the Horizon 2020 project Green Cities for Climate and Water Resilience, Sustainable Economic Growth, Healthy Citizens and Environments (GrowGreen) which aims to deliver systemic changes to the long-term planning, development, operation and management of seven cities through the use of nature-based solutions (NBS), in order to deliver quantified improvements in climate and water resilience, social, environmental and economic performance.
3. MAINSTREAMING GREEN INFRASTRUCTURE
According to the Nature Protection Act (NPA), all physical planning documents and sectorial management plans for use of natural resources must incorporate nature protection requirements. The trend in implementation since 2010 is positive as new sectors are included in the process, such as water management, and partly agriculture (tenders for use of agricultural land). However, in some sectors, like marine and freshwater fisheries, implementation needs to be improved. A Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) procedure for policy strategies is obligatory from 2013. Ecological Network Impact Assessment and Environmental Impact Assessment procedures are obligatory and are regularly being implemented (BISE, n.d.).
The EU Natura 2000 network is at the core of the EU's Green Infrastructure. The Croatian Natura 2000 network under the Habitats and the Birds Directives was officially designated in 2013 and amended in 2015. The Natura 2000 network covers 36.5% of Croatian land area (representing the second largest network in the EU in relation to MS area) and significant marine area (4986 km2). By 2015, Croatia designated 741 sites of community interest (SCI) and 38 special protection areas (SPA) (European Commission, 2017).
Roughly one third of the Croatian Natura 2000 network is agricultural land. The Rural Development Programme of Croatia for 2014-2020 includes a sub-measure to “support non-productive investments linked to the achievement of agri-environment-climate objectives”. Within this sub-measure, restoration of habitats important for biodiversity conservation (e.g. meadows, pastures and ponds for livestock watering) can be financed. Additionally, in order to ensure maintenance and preservation of the valuable habitats, a sub-measure on “payment for agri-environment-climate commitments” was developed (EC, 2017).
Nature protection requirements are integrated into forestry management plans, in terms of protection measures for individual threatened species, habitat types, protected areas, and sites of the ecological network. From 2008 to 2012, nature protection requirements have been integrated in 603 forest management plans (base proposals and management programmes for state forests, and forest management programmes for privately owned forests). The Forest Act includes certain regulations that contribute to biodiversity conservation, such as the designation of forests with special purpose which include forests in protected areas and the most valuable forest sites for Genofond (production of seeds). Additionally, protective forests are being designated for ecosystem services as they provide e.g. protection against erosion, protection of waters etc, with modified management. According to the Forest Act, legal entities performing economic activities in the Republic of Croatia are required to pay a fee for the ecosystem services mentioned above (equivalent to 0,0265% of the total revenue) for use of non-market forest functions. These funds are used for various works in forest management, including maintaining biodiversity and ensuring sustainable principles of management (Fifth National Report of the Republic of Croatia to the CBD, 2014).
The Zagreb Plan 2020, the strategic planning document for the city of Zagreb, outlines a number of targets for 2020 including target c3 - Environmental protection and sustainable management of natural resources and energy; target c4 - Improving spatial quality and function of the city; and target c5 - Improving quality of life.
As part of the preparation of the ‘Plan on the social, economic and environmental aspects of the life and development of the City of Zagreb’, an analysis of the anticipated climate change effects was carried out. After a thorough intersectoral analysis, which involved a large number of experts from different areas, a set of 47 measures was defined, with the goal to improve Zagreb's resilience to climate change. They include measures for protection against heat waves, measures for response to heat waves (buildings and green infrastructure), water management measures, measures for adaptation of transport infrastructure, measures for improvement of energy infrastructure and measures for mitigation of climate change effects on landslides (European Climate Adaptation Platform, n.d.).
Physical plans are subject to the procedure of Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) which is the most important mechanism of introducing nature protection issues in physical planning. The Nature Protection Act (NPA) prescribes the obligation to perform the Ecological Network Impact Assessment (ENIA) for all spatial plans. For spatial plans for which the Strategic Environmental Assessment is conducting the Nature Impact Assessment as its integral part, whilst for the other spatial plans Nature Impact Assessment is being conducted through issuing and incorporating the nature protection requirements in spatial plans. One of the weaknesses is the practice of frequent revisions of physical plans in order to introduce small changes (Fifth National Report of the Republic of Croatia to the CBD, 2014).
Cooperation between nature protection and water management sectors was achieved through intensive collaboration on assessment of annual programmes of water maintenance works. Croatian Waters worked on the development of a methodology for the evaluation and classification of the ecological status of surface waters in accordance with the Water Framework Directive (WFD). According to the 2014 national report to the CBD, there were still some issues to be solved, mostly related to overall assessment of certain types of activities like regulation of watercourses and extraction of river bed sediments (Fifth National Report of the Republic of Croatia to the CBD, 2014).
Disaster risk reduction
The Sustainable Development Strategy (SDS) of the Republic of Croatia (OG 30/2009) recognizes adaptation to climate change as one of the main preconditions for achieving sustainability, as well as the overall objectives of the SDS. Part of the 6th National Communication to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) submitted in 2014 is dedicated to adaptation to climate change. The sectors included in the report are hydrology and water resources, forestry, agriculture, biodiversity and natural terrestrial ecosystem, coast and coastal zone, marine ecosystems, fish resources, and human health (European Climate Adaptation Platform, 2014).
The Risk Assessment for the Republic of Croatia was adopted in November 2015. In this document, every disaster scenario includes a description of the existing and possible future impacts of climate change on that risk. The document and its development process is a good example of climate change adaptation and DRR synergy in Croatia (European Climate Adaptation Platform, 2014). However, GI is not yet well integrated. The term GI (or a similar term) is not mentioned at all. Retention measures are mentioned in relation to flood protection, but the emphasis is on dykes and other grey infrastructure solutions.
Marine and coastal policy
According to the most recent National Report to the CBD (2014), cooperation between nature protection and the marine fishery sector is showing progress. An important biodiversity conservation mechanism is the Mediterranean Regulation which was transposed into the Marine Fishery Act and prohibits fishing with trawl nets, dredges, purse seines, boat seines, shore seines or similar nets in all Natura 2000 sites, all protected areas, seagrass beds, coral-ligenous habitats and mäerl beds. The nature protection sector is included in the preparation of the National strategic plan for aquaculture for the period 2014-2020 and the preparation of management plans for fishing (Fifth National Report of the Republic of Croatia to the CBD, 2014).
According to the Fifth National Report to the CBD, Strategic planning and assessment of transport corridors in relation to biodiversity is generally weak. In 2009-2013 there were 55 km of new highway built. Progress has been reached in building new wildlife crossings, but not in regular maintenance of existing ones. Regarding waterways, although all navigable rivers in Croatia are transboundary and there are international technical bodies collaborating on their management, the water management sector significantly prevails in this process while nature protection is not adequately taken into account. In marine transport, there is the problem of ballast waters from great ships entering the Adriatic from outside waters and spreading invasive species. The proposal of the Ballast Water Management Strategy of the Republic of Croatia was prepared but not yet adopted (Fifth National Report of the Republic of Croatia to the CBD, 2014).
According to the most recent CBD report, plans and programmes in the energy sector which have a large impact on nature (Hydro-energy and wind power plants) did not go through the Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) procedure. Nature protection can influence planning of locations for power plants through issuing nature protection requirements into physical plans and through case by case environmental impact assessment (EIA) procedures. Planned locations of wind power plants have been strategically assessed only for wind potential and not for their effects on biodiversity. Between 2009-2013, 14 wind power plants were built and 81 were planned on territory important for migratory birds and bats as well as for breeding birds of prey (Fifth National Report of the Republic of Croatia to the CBD, 2014).
Tourism and leisure
According to the most recent National Report to the CBD (2014), tourism is still oriented to projects related to providing touristic infrastructure mainly in coastal areas. The value of eco-tourism is not sufficiently recognized by the State to invest more efforts in its development. Some pilot projects were financed by the Ministry of Tourism, but there was no systematic monitoring of such initiatives. Progress is mostly related to the improvement of visitor management in protected areas, such as building of information centres, educational trails and information panels. This is particularly important for the parks that need diversification of activities in order to diminish the burden from visitor overflow during high season, as well as parks that still have no adequate visitor infrastructure in place. Additionally, the new overarching framework for the management of national and nature parks was the adoption of a new visual identity, Parks of Croatia, which will further support their potential for regional development (Fifth National Report of the Republic of Croatia to the CBD, 2014).
4. FINANCING GREEN INFRASTRUCTURE
- Projects related to GI, such as DRAVA LIFE - Integrated River Management (12/2015 – 11/2020) and IBM - Central Posavina - Wading toward Integrated Basin Management (2006-2008) were funded by the EU (LIFE).
- Restoration of habitats important for biodiversity conservation, such as meadows, pastures and ponds for livestock watering, can be financed within the Programme of Rural Development of the Republic of Croatia for the period 2014-2020, sub-measure “Support for non-productive investments linked to the achievement of agri-environment-climate objectives”. Additionally, in order to ensure maintenance and preservation of valuable habitats, sub-measure “Payment for agri-environment-climate commitments” was included (BISE, n.d).
- GI measures may be eligible for funding through the ERDF. The EU allocation to Croatia amounts to EUR 6.88 billion (4.3 billion from the European Regional and Development Fund and 2.56 billion from the Cohesion Fund). Funding priorities include investment in the development of energy efficiency in public buildings and housing, as well as the production of renewable energy resources at local level. Biodiversity and ecosystems will also be further preserved, including through the development of the Natura 2000 network. Particular support will be dedicated to demining, as well as the prevention and monitoring of natural risks (EC InfoRegio, n.d.)
- The “Contribution of forests to common good” mechanism (OG 19/2015) (comparable to a PES system) requires companies to contribute 0,0265% of their total income in a calendar year to the maintenance, restoration, management etc. of forests in Croatia.
- GI-related actions may be eligible for funding from The Environmental Protection and Energy Efficiency Fund. The EPEEF has the mission to finance the preparation, implementation and development of programmes, projects and similar activities in the field of preservation, sustainable use, protection and improvement of the environment, energy efficiency, and similar areas (Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform, n.d.)
5. CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR GI DEVELOPMENT
5.1 Best practice/points of excellence
Croatia’s Natura 2000 network covers 36.5 % of the country’s land area (2nd largest network in the EU in relation to MS area) and a significant marine area (4986 km2). By 2015, Croatia had designated 741 SCIs and 38 SPAs. While the terrestrial part of the network can now be considered complete, the marine part still presents some insufficiencies in terms of designation (EC, 2017).
There are some good examples of the use of natural solutions in Croatia, in particular for flood protection. The largest floodwater retention area in the Central Sava Basin is located in the Lonjsko Polje Nature Park, combining the ecological and landscape diversity values of natural floodplains and wetlands with the storage of floodwaters of the Sava River. However, the 2017 EIR concluded that, a more strategic approach to flood risk reduction is needed to ensure that environmental impacts are duly considered and that Flood Risk Management Plans are coordinated with River Basin Management Plans. The use of natural water retention measures should be prioritised to deliver environmental, social and economic benefits (EC, 2017).
Completing the designation of Natura 2000 sites (marine SCIs and SPAs and SACs) and ensuring their effective management remains a challenge (EC, 2017).
Croatia could perform better on topics where there is already a good knowledge base and good practices. Among other aspects, this applies to ensuring effective protection and restoration of Croatia's natural capital, especially under the Natura 2000 network to maximise potential benefits deriving from ecosystem services which can serve as powerful economic drivers, including through green tourism and other sustainable activities (EC, 2017).
6. KNOWLEDGE BASE
- Ecosystem services are being mainstreamed in the revised National Biodiversity and Action Plan for Nature Protection (NBSAP). One of the NBSAP Targets is the detailed mapping of ecosystem services with the aim of their economic valorisation and improvement of their services through cooperation with different relevant sectors and stakeholders (BISE, n.d.). In January 2015, the Croatian Environmental Agency published the baseline study on ecosystems and their services in Croatia. The preliminary map of ecosystems in Croatia estimated the state of ecosystems based on available data and the corresponding national indicators were established in this study (Fifth National Report of the Republic of Croatia to the CBD, 2014).
- Croatia has completed a Study on Freshwater Ecosystem Services (Pithart et al., 2014) according to the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment with a focus on lowland river ecosystems and services in the Danube basin. A mapping exercise for terrestrial habitats is underway, as a basis for the mapping and assessment of ecosystems and their services.
- A number of activities related to assessment of the values of biodiversity and economic valuation of ecosystem services have been initiated recently, mostly connected to the implementation of different projects and studies. A WWF project on the Dinaric Arc Ecoregion Protected Areas for a Living Planet evaluated economic benefits of protected areas National Park Sjeverni Velebit and Nature Park Velebit, including ecosystems and their services (fresh water, agriculture, fisheries, forests, tourism, and disaster prevention). The “Sector Scenario Analysis” (SSA) approach was used in the study, involving two scenarios - “business as usual” (BAU) management model, and “sustainable ecosystem management” (SEM) model. The key results of the study have shown that ecosystems of analysed protected areas provide irreplaceable ecosystem services that are enabling economic benefits in tourism, in particular “green” tourism; agriculture (in particular fruit production); and the improvement of the way of life in general within the protected area and in its surroundings (Fifth National Report of the Republic of Croatia to the CBD, 2014).
7. FURTHER RESOURCES AND PUBLICATIONS
Flores, M., Ivičić, I. (2011): Valuation of the Contribution of the Ecosystems of Northern Velebit National Park and Velebit Nature Park to Economic Growth and Human Wellbeing: Croatia. http://awsassets.panda.org/downloads/valuation_of_the_contribution_of_the_ecosystems_of_northern_velebit_national_park_and_ve.pdf
Nature Protection Web Portal, Ministry of Environmental and Nature Protection, http://www.zastita-prirode.hr/eng/Projects-International-Cooperation/International-agreements/Convention-on-Biological-Diversity-CBD/Strategy-and-Action-Plan-for-the-Protection-of-Biological-and-Landscape-Diversity-NBSAP
8. LIST OF CONSULTED REFERENCES
Croatia - Contribution to the mid-term review of the EU biodiversity strategy to 2020 based on the 5th national report to CBD (n.d.) BISE, Accessed 28.03.2017: http://biodiversity.europa.eu/mtr/countries/croatia
European Climate Adaptation Platform (n.d.) Accessed 29.03.2017: http://climate-adapt.eea.europa.eu/countries-regions/countries/croatia
European Commission (2013). Green Infrastructure (GI) – Enhancing Europe’s Natural Capital. COM(2013) 249 final.
European Commission (2017). The EU Environmental Implementation Review Country Report – Croatia. http://ec.europa.eu/environment/eir/pdf/report_hr_en.pdf
European Commission InfoRegio (n.d) Accessed 29.03.2017: http://ec.europa.eu/regional_policy/en/atlas/programmes/2014-2020/croatia/2014hr16m1op001
Factsheet on Croatia developed by the EC financed project “Supporting the Implementation of Green Infrastructure”.
Fifth National Report of the Republic of Croatia to the CBD (2014) Accessed 28.03.2017: https://www.cbd.int/doc/world/hr/hr-nr-05-en.pdf
LIFE Project Database (n.d.). “IBM - Central Posavina - Wading toward Integrated Basin Management”. Accessed 28.03.2017: http://ec.europa.eu/environment/life/project/Projects/index.cfm?fuseaction=search.dspPage&n_proj_id=2962
LIFE Project Database (n.d.). “DRAVA LIFE - DRAVA LIFE – Integrated River Management”. Accessed 05.12.2016: http://ec.europa.eu/environment/life/project/Projects/index.cfm?fuseaction=search.dspPage&n_proj_id=5327
Pithart, D., Rančić I., Kutleŝa P., and Duplić, A. (2014) Study of Freshwater Ecosystem Services in Croatia. Available at: http://www.hr.undp.org/content/dam/croatia/docs/Research%20and%20publications/environment/Study%20of%20Freshwater%20Ecosystem%20Services%20in%20Croatia_FINAL_eng.pdf
Rewilding Europe (n.d.) Accessed 29.03.2017: https://www.rewildingeurope.com/blog/bark-beetles-bora-and-green-bridges-in-croatia/
Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform (n.d.) Accessed 29.03.2017: https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/index.php?page=view&type=99&nr=71&menu=1449
WWF (n.d.) “Transboundary Biosphere Reserve Mura-Drava-Danube” Accessed 29.03.2017: http://wwf.hu/en/transboundary-biosphere-reserve-mura-drava-danube