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Restoring biodiversity and ecosystem services


Actions should:

  • provide large-scale demonstrators of how systemic upscaling and replication of best practice ecosystem restoration[[ Based on CBD guidance on ecosystem restoration, and in line with the EU 2030 Biodiversity Strategy whose Restoration Plan aims to help bring diverse and resilient nature back to all landscapes and ecosystems.]] can be deployed at regional, national and cross-border levels, focusing on degraded terrestrial, freshwater, coastal or marine ecosystems, responding to relevant restoration goals enhancing biodiversity;
  • in line with the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030, restore degraded ecosystems, in particular those with high potential to capture and store carbon and to prevent and reduce the impact of natural disasters, and, where relevant, to contribute to the achievement of favourable status for species and habitats of the Birds and Habitats Directives inside and outside the Natura 2000 network of protected areas;
  • adapt, integrate and demonstrate innovative methods (technological, non-technological, social and governance, including sustainable financing) on upscaling ecosystem restoration, also in regions and for communities in transition;
  • support the development of specific demand and supply chains in restoring ecosystems on land or at sea – recognising that conditions at sea can considerably differ from the ones on land (including freshwater), that speed of change and disturbance might differ, and that solutions to reverse biodiversity decline are context-specific;
  • demonstrate and test how restoration activities and socio-ecological management of ecosystems enable sustainable, climate-neutral and climate-resilient, inclusive, transformative approaches, including across the bioeconomy (agriculture, forestry, marine and innovative bio-based sectors) and as investments in disaster risk reduction;
  • promote scaling up and stepping up of implementation of nature-based solutions[[ “Nature-based solutions are inspired and supported by nature, which are cost-effective, simultaneously provide environmental, social and economic benefits and help build resilience. Such solutions bring more, and more diverse, nature and natural features and processes into cities, landscapes and seascapes, through locally adapted, resource-efficient and systemic interventions”. – Hence, nature-based solutions must benefit biodiversity and support the delivery of a range of ecosystem services.]] building on existing experience in particular on lessons learned and best practices gained through EU-funded projects and initiatives such as those supported by Horizon 2020 and the LIFE programme[[]] in order to address barriers to implementation for systemic nature-based solutions focussing on restoration in urban, peri-urban, rural or marine areas;
  • showcase how restoring ecosystems at large scale will also help human communities to adapt to changing conditions at their local level, and how restoration activities can be integrated into economically and socially viable land use practices, enabling a shift of social and behavioural patterns towards increased benefits for biodiversity and strengthening social acceptance and social resilience;
  • demonstrate how to maximise synergies and avoid trade-offs between priorities for restoring biodiversity, mitigating and adapting to climate change (such as those identified jointly by the IPCC and IPBES).
  • generate knowledge on how large-scale restoration can accelerate transformative change beneficial for biodiversity and climate resilience, and bring this information to UN programmes, as well as to IPCC and IPBES[[ In particular assessments in preparation, policy tools and capacity building. ]], processes.

Actions should demonstrate how restoration (in biodiversity richness and abundance, structure, function and connectivity) of ecosystems and their services can be scaled up[[ “Up-scaling” means here substantial increase in area of restored ecosystem(s), provision of ecosystem services, leading to enhanced ecological integrity at the landscape scale as well as greater community resilience and well-being. This implies a systemic approach, which usually combines several ecosystems, integrates with relevant sectorial policies and incorporates the identified solutions in policy and related actions.]], in collaboration with stakeholders, so that opportunities for substantial biodiversity and ecosystem services gains will be realised, which in turn deliver social and economic benefits. This pilot is a European Green Deal enabler and can be used as a testbed for further green infrastructure/nature-based solution investment by the European Investment Bank (EIB), for LIFE SNAPs[[ SNAP = Strategic Nature Action Projects.]], and relevant further budget lines in the next Multiannual Financial Framework.

Appropriate budget for cooperation with and use of tools resulting from previous projects on ecosystem restoration and nature-based solutions[[ See SC5-27-2020, CLA-11-2020, SC5-13-2018-2019, SCC-02-2016-2017, BiodivERsA, Oppla, NetworkNature and their joint work streams.]], including from LIFE projects[[]] and with Horizon Europe activities such as the European Partnerships[[]] and Missions[[]] should be envisaged.

Actions should also test and evaluate innovating approaches for creating value with human communities undergoing transformative change, avoiding negative externalities and improving their living conditions by restoring their terrestrial and/or aquatic environment.

Actions should also address all of the following issues:

  • Together with the concerned communities, developing a scalability plan, including at landscape scale and using spatial planning legislation where relevant. The scalability plan should include diffusion of innovative solutions, and a process for commitments in adopting large-scale restoration within governance and financing systems, so other relevant communities can replicate the upscaling across the EU and internationally. It should seek guarantees for the non-reversibility and/or continuity of up-scaled restoration activities and/or further replication and/or expansion, implementation of sustainable management practices and monitoring after the end of the projects.
  • Setting baselines, goals and a monitoring framework for the projects: why an activity is being undertaken, what changes are expected and by when, and how changes are monitored in order to determine if the action was successful in relation to the original goals. Activities should be prioritised according to their urgency for addressing upscaling restoration challenges, the restoration potential of degraded ecosystems, the significance of research for supporting EU policy needs, their contribution to the international biodiversity agenda, and their potential to trigger transformative change.
  • Restoration actions should be paired with supportive and robust management practices that reduce pressures and direct habitat damage at the local scale, and empower civil society in planning and deployment of restoration and maintenance of its achievements to support restoration efforts in the long term.
  • Prioritisation should be informed by social, economic and ecological conditions and recovery efficiency to ensure restoration efforts are resilient and efficient. Approaches should be based on existing knowledge from prior research or experience and tested restoration methods [[E.g on Mapping and Assessing Ecosystems and their Services, LIFE, or through SC5-07-2015.]] and should seek complementarity with LIFE projects [[in particular LIFE Integrated projects , and LIFE Strategic Nature Projects (in LIFE database, choose as strand “Integrated Projects for Environment” or “Integrated Projects Clima”).]]. To increase the scale, scope and pace of restoration, efforts should be based on evidence, better understanding and communication of ecosystem service recovery and thresholds for effective ecosystem restoration, and the inclusive involvement of social and economic actors.
  • Activities related to improving ecosystem condition should be integrated into best practice monitoring activities within respective monitoring governance schemes[[ As developed for restoration in EU and worldwide schemes, or through SC5-2020-20, or pollinator monitoring, or Earth Observation-based monitoring, using Copernicus data, or natural capital accounting, where adequate and relevant.]]. No new restoration monitoring approaches should be developed. Actions should explicitly include deliverables which apply (or test, if necessary) monitoring schemes with efficiency and output indicators related to restoration, its benefits and trade-offs.
  • Actions should promote innovative funding, cross-sectoral collaborations and social participation to support the design, implementation and monitoring of sustainable and effective restoration efforts. They should explore how upscaling and mainstreaming of ecosystem restoration could facilitate systemic transformation in governance, policy making, financing, public procurement, economic development, social innovation, infrastructure and regional strategic planning.
  • In line with the strategy for EU international cooperation in research and innovation (COM(2012)497), international cooperation is encouraged for adapting the upscaling approaches for restoration demonstrated for use in European conditions[[ This could include the EU Outermost regions.]] and applying them to harness transformative change internationally.

Project consortia must evidence that they have the rights to undertake actions on the areas to be restored. No land purchase or lease can be funded under this topic. Projects are expected to mobilise additional funding or in-kind contributions when implementing restoration actions.

Proposals should dedicate appropriate resources to develop joint deliverables with all projects funded under this topic and for cooperation with other projects. Actions should use existing platforms and information sharing mechanisms relevant for restoration and nature-based solutions, giving open access to its results.

The Commission considers that proposals requesting a contribution from the EU of between EUR 16 and 25 million would allow this specific challenge to be addressed appropriately. Nonetheless, this does not preclude submission and selection of proposals requesting other amounts.

Projects are expected to give priority in their budgets for hands-on action on restoration. In order to ensure a balanced portfolio of supported actions, at least two proposals covering terrestrial and/or freshwater ecosystems, and at least two covering coastal and/or marine ecosystems will be funded.

Underpinned by knowledge in the latest IPCC and IPBES reports, large-scale ecosystem restoration is urgent – the window of opportunity is closing rapidly. It needs a systemic approach to deliver tangible benefits on the European Green Deal actions for climate (mitigation, adaptation and disaster risk reduction), biodiversity, zero pollution and sustainable food systems (from farm to fork), health and wellbeing. Actions under this topic should therefore be pivotal in demonstrating and promoting systemic solutions for upscaling urgent restoration to increase biodiversity and support a wide range of ecosystem services, as requested in the Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 for damaged terrestrial, freshwater, coastal and marine ecosystems.

Resilient, healthy ecosystems are natural carbon stocks and sinks. They can remove CO2 from the atmosphere and support adaptation to climate change and disaster risk reduction. In addition to delivering a wide range of other services (oxygen source, improved health and well-being, recreation, water retention and purification, air quality, nutrient cycling or pollination), ecosystems are essential in a wide range of sectors which impact the everyday life of Europe’s citizens (food, feed, fibre or fuel provision across the bioeconomy). However, biodiversity is being lost and ecosystems are degrading at an alarming rate. Pressures on biodiversity are increasing at a faster rate than the efforts to protect it[[ See SOER 2020, IPBES (2018, 2019).]]. The integrity of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, and their capacity to deliver a wide range of essential services to people, will be further undermined by the effects of unavoidable climate change. There is therefore a need to strengthen their resilience against environmental and climate stressors while integrating the local socio-economic specificities of their surrounding environment.

While solutions for the restoration of biodiversity and ecosystem services are available now, they are neither up-scaled nor integrated enough in today’s governance, investment or policy support landscapes. Research and demonstration on how to scale up technical and non-technical approaches for the spatial and social-economic integration of restoration impacts is therefore needed. The environmental emergency highlights the limits of current management approaches and calls for investment in innovative, sustainable and effective restoration including through mobilising innovative funding and cross-sectoral collaborations that could trigger transformational change. Moreover, the global biodiversity post-2020 framework seeks voluntary commitments by business and stakeholders to invest in biodiversity and new approaches to speed up actions in the framework of the UN decade for restoration.

From increased social awareness to more engagement with the private sector, there is a distinct need to build trans-disciplinary collaborations at all scales and across relevant ecosystem types. Win-win solutions and multi-purpose usage that support local biodiversity while delivering specific services and socio-economic benefits are sought. Hence, this topic seeks answers on how to frame transformational change which supports a just transition[[ See EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030, COM(2020) 380 final: “The implementation [will] recognise the need to ensure social justice, fairness and inclusiveness […], and will require a sense of responsibility and strong joint efforts from the EU, its Member States, stakeholders and citizens.”]] – to show how investing in nature restoration can explicitly help vulnerable regions and communities to improve their resilience to social and environmental shocks, when rapid changes in climate and environment, economies and social conditions occur.

This topic therefore responds to the urgent double challenge of (i) accelerating transformative change through (ii) upscaling restoration of ecosystems at sea or on land.

Actions are expected to demonstrate how transformational change through ecosystem restoration delivers at large scale, delivering first visible results and examples on land and at sea by 2024, with benefits increasing in the long-term.

The project results are expected to contribute to:

  • maintained and enhanced natural carbon sinks and reduced greenhouse gas emissions through the important role of biodiversity, local reversal of the degradation of ecosystems, recovery of ecosystem functions, increased connectivity and resilience of ecosystems, and improved delivery of a range of ecosystem services[[ For socio-economic benefits restoration to improving ecosystem services, see e.g. SWD(2019)305 final.]];
  • the objectives of the European Green Deal, including the EU commitment to reduce emission by 50-55% by 2030 and become net carbon-neutral by 2050; the implementation of the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030[[In particular the EU Nature Restoration Plan as announced in the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030.]] and the EU Nature Directives[[On restoration needs identified in the EU State of Nature Report, and identified by EU Member States in their Prioritised Action Frameworks]] the Water and Marine Strategy Framework Directives, the Farm-to-Fork Strategy, the Pollinators Initiative, the Climate Law, the Bioeconomy Strategy and Action Plan, EU Urban Policies, and the revised EU Adaptation Strategy; supporting the EU Covenant of Mayors, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (2015-2030), the UN Decade of Restoration including land/sea degradation neutrality, and the UN Sustainable Development Goals;
  • widespread and innovative scaling-up of ecosystem restoration to maintain and enhance natural carbon sinks and other ecosystem services, with a view to significantly reducing the carbon and environmental footprint of Europe;
  • increased restoration through uptake of public-private partnerships and (voluntary) market-based incentives for business and individuals within restoration initiatives, including as the result of trans-disciplinary research and stakeholder engagement to help identify co-funding for long-term maintenance and buy-in from the private sector;
  • enhanced empowerment, engagement and reconnection of local communities with nature and increased social awareness on restoration actions, and their benefits;
  • transformational change supporting a just transition based on investing in nature together with vulnerable regions and communities improving their resilience of in the face of rapid changes in climate and environment, economies and social conditions.