My passion for wildlife was stimulated in my teenage years, mainly thanks to my Mum (a biology teacher) who made me look at the world differently and being inspired by writers such as Paul Colinvaux. This early interest developed into biological research in my 20s, when I did practical conservation work in places such as the Comores and Mongolia.
Today, any free time I have I spend pottering around the flatlands of East Anglia or escaping to our hut on the Northumberland coast looking for wildlife and castles with my wife and children.
I studied Biological Sciences at Oxford and Conservation at UCL, and worked at Wildlife and Countryside Link before spending five years as Conservation Director at Plantlife.
I joined the RSPB as Head of Government Affairs in 2004, became Head of Sustainable Development in 2006, before becoming Conservation Director in 2011.
Today President Barroso sits down with his college of Commissioners from the 27 Member States to decide how to spend roughly trillion euros of EU tax payers money between 2014-2020.
The sensible thing surely is to ensure that this money is spent on things that the EU has said that it wants to achieve and from which EU citizens will benefit – such as reversing biodiversity loss and cutting greenhouse gas emissions. Given that the EU has set Member States a whole series of environmental targets – which we applaud – it follows, doesn’t it, that EU spending should reflect these priorities?
The current seven-year EU budget totals around €975 billion, or €139 billion per year. However, only around 10% of this amount is directly spent on climate measures, energy and resource efficiency and nature conservation.
Through the BirdLife International partnership, we have joined forces with other NGOs to call for smarter spending and intelligent investment.
Smarter spending would see at least 35% of the EU budget being used to tackle climate change and at least 15% being allocated to action to restore and protect biodiversity and ecosystem services.
Intelligent investment would see 50% of the EU budget allocated to those in sectors that underpin a green economy (i.e. renewable energies, energy efficiency, nature protection, agri-environment schemes etc..).
To illustrate the mismatch between ambition and spend, look at our friend, the Common Agriculture Policy. Currently only 5% of the CAP supports the environment (through incentives for wildlife friendly farming under Axis 2 of Pillar 2 – I know there is a lot of jargon). We would like to this to grow significantly – although rumours which have emerged over the past week have helped to lower our expectations.
Equally, the only pot of money dedicated to nature conservation - the aptly named LIFE programme - currently constitutes just 0.2% of the EU Budget. Given the emerging consensus (through things like the National Ecosystem Assessment) that investment in a healthy natural environment makes economic sense, it does not seem excessive for the LIFE programme to grow to 1% of the EU budget – with maybe €750 million dedicated to supporting the conservation of species and habitats of international importance.
Citizens across Europe appear to want change. A Eurobarometer poll from May 2011 shows that 89% of EU citizens agree that “EU funding should be allocated more to support environmentally friendly activities and developments”. What’s more, the Commission’s public consultation on the single EU fund for the environment LIFE+ from 2011 shows that 86% of respondents think there is a need for a specific EU financial instrument for environment and climate action and 55% want to see it increased.
With such strength of public support, surely this collective of Commissioners cannot fail to find smarter ways to spend a trillion? We’ll probably know the scale of their ambition by Thursday lunchtime.
I'm always a pessimist which means I'm often pleasantly surprised. Hoping for some of that tomorrow. If not where do we go from here?
One does wonder how how accountable and democratic are the top echelons of the EU administration and how responsive they are (or should be) to the ever increasing public support for biodiversity and the environment. Let's hope tomorrow we find out they are very responsive. Fingers crossed for tomorrow.