Nature Conservation

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European Natural and Cultural Heritage as Integration Tool towards a New European Renaissance

PhD, Peter Skoberne Ministry of the Environment and Spatial Planning Dunajska 48, SI-1000 Ljubljana

1 Introduction

Humanism of the renaissance triggered a new relation of men towards nature. On one side there was very big interest in scientific research of nature components from microorganisms to cosmos and on the other hand this period was establishing a view of a dominant position of humans in nature.

This was emphasised especially after industrial revolution by ability to use fossil energy. From that time we are witnessing exponential growth of energy consumption, natural resources, production, population growth, communication and transport facilities.

Side effect of this development were some early warning signals of degradation which brought to nature conservation movements in the second half of the 19th century and environmentalism in 60’ties of 20th century (e.g. inspired by the book of Rachel Carson, Silent Spring).

In correlation with consumption the problems escalated to issues we are nowadays dealing with at global level: climate change, extinction of species, invasive alien species, pollution. But troubles are not only on environmental side. The other side of the same coin are social changes: poverty and hunger, water and health security, armed conflicts, discrimination…

Many grassroots movements were alerting these problems, but solutions have to get global consensus and political backing to be able to change the situation. An important milestone in this respect was the Rio Summit in 1992, bringing into global political framework responsibility of everyone towards limited resources of the planet and the vision of sustainable development.

From that event many international treaties, strategies, programmes and activities were launched, many new organisations established and a lot of work done. But still the effect seems to be less efficient than the undesired development consequences. The actual way of thinking and living has obviously not changed.

We cannot change the way of life without deep personal dedication and willingness. Thus need for a new renaissance is essential, as already famous Albert Einstein’s quote says: “We can’t solve problems by using the same way of thinking we used when we created them.”

2 Responses in Nature Conservation in Europe

In several areas in Europe nature conservation movements started soon after industrialisation. They were focused on threatened outstanding natural features (waterfalls, geological formations, trees…) or plants (Edelweiss) and animals (chamois, capricorn). First protected areas were focused to conserve those places; soon this idea was used for larger protected areas, like national parks (Sweden in 1909).

Soon it became clear that for effective protection of animals and plants you have to take into account their habitat, as well. Additional to classical species protection legal obligations for safeguarding habitats were set up.

On international level that was first regulated in the Bern Convention (The Bern Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats, 1979). That approach was used and further developed in the Birds (1979) and Habitats Directive (1992), key legislative provisions of the European Union in the field of nature conservation.

The result of the implementation of those directives is the largest ecological network on global level – Natura 2000. In non-EU countries this network is complemented by the Emerald sites of the Bern Convention.

But even this impressive network of protected areas and Natura 2000 is not enough to stop the decline of biodiversity in Europe. Protected areas can’t be isolated islands in the sea of over development. In some way the concept of Green infrastructure tries to overcome these short comes.

The recent document from the European Commission (2016) based on data and evidence states clearly that this approach is contributing substantially to the global goals but still not reaching targets. The Directives remain highly relevant for conservation and sustainable use of species and habitats of EU concern. This coherent approach will continue to be an essential component of the EU Biodiversity Policy. However, it is essential to reach better integration to other policies, like agriculture. The key issue remains challenges in better implementation.

3 Need and possible ways for Integration

The fitness check of EU ‘nature’ directives is showing very clearly that integration of nature concerns in every decision and activity is essential. It is simple a must. But it is not enough to know this on declaratory level.

International treaties are addressing single issues and there is a need for an integral guiding document. In fact such document was prepared, not coming from the UN organisation as it could be expected, but, surprisingly from Vatican. In May 2015 Pope Francis published encyclical letter Laudato si’. This document is dealing about care of our common home and is dedicated to whole humanity, addressing ecological, social and economic troubles of the recent era. At the same time Pope is recognising that all these symptoms are originating from the “three fundamental and closely intertwined relationships: with God, with our neighbour and with the earth itself.” (Pope Francis, 2015) If we want to change the way of living, we have to address and renew these broken relations. This is why simple existing approaches don’t work. There is a need for a new paradigm – new renaissance that will change the attitude of men towards nature, based on experience of nature (natural heritage) and soaked by culture (cultural heritage).

It can be done with learning from nature, seeking for the lost wisdom of our ancestors, using existing knowledge and communication. There are enough existing processes and activities. Even in this meeting we heard and will hear about some ideas and solutions. Integral Green Economy and Society approach is an attempt in this direction. Certainly we have to simplify processes by integration to get rid of duplication and unnecessary activities.

Slovenia is a suitable country for such adventure. It is manageable by size, situated on cultural (e. g. amber way) and natural (Alps – Dinaric mountains) corridors on crossroad of Roman, German and Slavic culture, rich with nature and cultural experience.

But at the end it all depends on the answer to the simple question: “Do we really want to change?”