COP21: an agreement, a promise for a better future?

COP21 and Ignace Schops © Don MacMonagle

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For the first time, humanity witnessed a world agreement on climate change. 196 countries agreed on limiting their emissions to “safe levels” – 2C with an aspiration of 1,5C – as scientists announced “2C as the limit of safety beyond which the effects – droughts, floods, heatwaves and sea level rises – are likely to become catastrophic”. Furthermore, developed nations committed on providing financial support to less developed countries, affected by climate-related disasters.

“We are currently losing our comfort zone and if we don’t act it is too late” stated Ignace Schops, EUROPARC President. Having a global agreement is not a recent aspiration, although climate change has been in the media agenda during the past months more than it ever did. Since 1992, the United Nations have been warning countries, people and businesses about the irreversible effects of global warming, but rather unsuccessfully. After a disastrous attempt on having an agreement, in Copenhagen 2009, the expected commitment came to be in December 12th, in Paris COP21.

Should the agreement be seen as a real promise for a sustainable future? In fact, flak have been raised after Paris announced the agreement, describing it as “insufficient for poor countries” and “not strong enough (in a scientifical point of view)”. Others point out it is too vague and dismissing important polluters such as aviation and shipping, “but we need to give the governments the benefit of the doubt. At least for a short period of time…” says Igance Schops in his interview (see below).

On EUROPARC behalf, we believe Protected Areas play a vital role on climate change mitigation and adaptation and for that, we were also present at COP21. “All ecosystems store approximately 50% of all the carbon emissions and Protected area’s in particular store 15%.”, says Ignace Schops. The Federation will keep on working side-by-side with Protected Areas, raising their voice at an european level and creating together solutions for climate change mitigation within PAs.

Interview with Ignace Schops, president of EUROPARC Federation, about the COP21 agreement.

Climate change, is this something to care about?

Of course! Climate Change is the biggest challenge humanity ever had! Due to the emission of too much greenhouse gasses since the industrial revolution we now see a shift: the global temperature raised to 0,8°C and because of this global warming the amount of flooding’s, hurricanes, drought periods, …  increased tremendously. With thousands of deaths and enormous costs. Without action, we are heading towards 4-5°C, were 70% of all life on earth will extinct, sea levels will rise to over 6 meter and where we as human beings will be on the brink to extinction!

We are currently losing our comfort zone and if we don’t act it is too late. Too late!

Can you tell me in a nutshell what the outcomes are of the Climate Agreement in Paris?

Well,  with the approval of the Climate Agreement, 196 countries recognize that climate change represents an urgent and potentially irreversible threat to humanity and the planet. Global warming should not exceed 2 ° C, preferably not more than 1.5 ° C. Moreover the peak of the global emissions has to appear as soon as possible (~2020) and the developing countries will get at least $ 100 billion dollars as of 2020. To evaluate and to adjust, there will be an assessment every five years? And above all: the agreement is legally binding.

I would say this is a beginning of a process that will lead into the complete ban of fossil energy, preferably close to 2050. So we have an agreement where everybody is on board. That’s different from Copenhagen. But the proof of the pudding is in the eating! Besides the big statements, we need to see an urgent and radical shift towards renewable energy and a reduction in carbon emissions! And rightfully so, there are some doubts and concerns within this agreement. Aviation and shipping are not taking into account in this agreement and scientists doubt we can stay under the 2°C threshold with this agreement. And also I have doubts. But we need to give the governments the benefit of the doubt. At least for a short period of time (laughs).

Can protected areas play a role in the climate change debate?

Most certainly! All ecosystems store approximately 50% of all the carbon emissions and Protected area’s in particular store 15%. For free! So, there is a huge opportunity for protected areas to come into the climate debate! Just look at het abandoned land – estimated nowadays at 2 billion hectares. With smart planning and e.g. (re)forestation, we can reduce global warming a lot! I would say: give space to nature to give space to ourselves and the future generations.

But ultimately and most certainly, all greenhouse gasses need to disappear as soon as possible! Preferably as close to 2050! And we need to shift to renewable energy, immediately, if not tomorrow! It is possible, it is doable, it brings millions of jobs … it makes the world a better place and in an atmosphere we can live in harmony with!

You were at the COP21 in Paris. Was it useful to be there? Lessons learned?

Oh yes, it was not only useful, it was essential! All world leaders and world institutions like UN, World Bank, IMF, the EU … ask for integration of policies and we tend to stay far away from this. As if this is not our business. I can tell you, the support and feedback we can give and the appreciation we get of climate related organizations is empowering both movements and show we can even be stronger together!

Be maybe the most important lesson is this: there is a big difference between word and action. We are not what we say, we are what we do! Let’s hope that the big impressing words of all the world leaders will be followed by a fast and sustainable systemic changes towards a new fossil free world where we, our children and all the species on earth can have healthy a place to live! Forever!

Think globally, act locally and change personally!

Charter Award Ceremony 2015

Charter Award Ceremony © 2015 Mauro Casalboni

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On the 7th of December, at the European Parliament in Brussels, EUROPARC and the European Protected Areas celebrated another year of success of the European Charter for Sustainable Tourism in Protected Areas.

Kindly hosted by MEP Igor Šoltes (Greens/EFA Group) and MEP Therese Comodini Cachia (EPP Group), members of the Intergroup on European Tourism Development, the Charter Award Ceremony 2015 has been a precious opportunity to share ideas and experiences, proving once more that the Charter is a very useful instrument of dialogue and governance to reconcile conservation and development.

Ignace Schops, EUROPARC president, opened the ceremony. The MEP Igor Šoltes welcomed the participants and illustrated the strong commitment of EP Intergroup and its initiatives and publications on sustainable tourism. The MEP Therese Comodini Cachia, who unfortunately could not attend, in her video message stressed the importance of the involvement of local stakeholders and tourist to reach sustainability and expressed the hope that Malta parks will join the Charter network. Then, Mrs Stefania Petrosillo, in charge of the Ceremony 2015, presented the new structure of the Charter, recently updated in order to capitalize the experiences after almost 20 years and respond to the challenges of the future.

Three stories about Charter were illustrated by the guest speakers: the cooperation between Charter parks of the North Portugal, by Vitor Sousa,from association Parques com Vida; the MEET project that is realizing a catalogue of tourism packages in Mediterranean protected areas based on the Charter, by Filippo Belisario, from Riserva Regionale Monte Rufeno/Regione Lazio; and the challenge of the Charter in a  fragile and over exploited territory as Cinque Terre in Italy, by Vittorio Alessandro, Cinque Terre National Park president.

In addition, Federico Minozzi, EUROPARC managing director, explained the engagement of the federation in the dialogue with the European institutions and its important results.

But, of course, not the speakers but the awarded Parks were the key actors of the ceremony: all protected areas representatives declared the importance, for the parks and for its surrounding areas, of having achieved the Charter recognition and of being part of this network. And EUROPARC gladly welcome them to the Charter Family!

Finally, Ignace Schops closed this emotional day underlining the crucial role that protected areas play in Europe and the excellent work the Charter areas are doing!

You can download the presentations on the box below, and download the pictures here.

Message from MEP Therese Comodini Cachia (EPP Group)

The new awarded and re-awarded Protected Areas 2015 are:

  • Parc naturel regional de Briere (FR)
  • Parque Nacional Maritimo Terrestre de las Islas Atlanticas de Galicia (ES)
  • Parco Nazionale Dolomiti Bellunesi (IT)
  • Matsalu National Park and its surrounding area (EE)
  • Parco Nazionale Foreste Casentinesi, Monte Falterona e Campigna (IT)
  • Parque Natural de los Valles Occidentales (ES)
  • Parc naturel regional du Luberon (FR)
  • Parque Nacional Peneda Gerês (PT)
  • Parque Natural do Alvão (PT)
  • Rede de Espaços de Excelência Ambiental do Alto Minho (PT)
  • Parco Nazionale Paneveggio Pale S. Martino  (IT)
  • Parque Natural Fuentes Carrionas y Fuente Cobre-Montaña Palentina  (ES)
  • Parco Nazionale e Area Marina Protetta delle Cinque Terre (IT)
  • Kornati National Park (HR)
  • Parque Natural de Posets-Maladeta (ES)
  • Parque Natural do Douro Internacional (PT)
  • Parque Natural de Montesinho (PT)
  • Parc naturel régional des Volcans d’Auvergne (FR) Re-awarded
  • Parc naturel régional du Pilat (FR) Re-awarded

If you did not have the chance to participate, you can watch the complete ceremony film below.

EUROPARC @COP21: Protected Areas fighting Climate Change

CoP21, Paris, 2015

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From November 29th to December 11th, France hosts the 21st Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP21).

COP21, or 2015 Paris Climate Conference, will bring together main actors at a global level: nations, businesses and organisations related with energy, innovation and environment. The objective is to achieve a universal agreement on climate, with the aim of keeping global warming below 2°C.

EUROPARC believes that Protected Areas play a vital role on climate change mitigation and adaptation. PA’s are in the front line of nature conservation: monitoring, evaluating and sounding the alarm of biodiversity loss. They are responsible for around 15 per cent of the terrestrial carbon stock (Campbell et al., 2008a, in UNEP-PA and Climate Change), and are important players preventing further carbon emissions caused by degradation.

Moreover, Protected Areas in Europe are working intensively at a local level, engaging communities towards more efficient and sustainable business practices, from tourism to green infra-structures, agriculture and ecosystem services.

Ignace Schops, EUROPARC President, will be in Paris raising the voice of Protected Areas, in a joint conference with Fédération Parcs Naturels Régionaux (Federation of French Regional Parks).

We kindly invite all partners, members and organisations to participate in the conference, on December 11th at Le Bourget, zone blue, Pavillon Européen (Hall B), between 18:30-20:00.

Presentation Title: «Parcs accompagnateurs/acteurs des stratégies de lutte contre le changement climatique» (Parks as actors of the strategies to fight Climate Change)

Ecosystem Services: Trading for protected areas

Workshop - Ecosystem Services, 16/17 November 2015 © EUROPARC Germany

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Europarc Low Countries, Europarc Germany and Eurosite organized a workshop to discuss the possibilities of trading systems on the voluntary carbon market as a potentially new way to finance management in protected areas in Europe. 24 participants from the UK, Germany, the Netherlands, Latvia and Belarus discussed this issue on 16 and 17 November in the office of EUROPARC Deutschland. The goal was to look in some detail into the carbon market and to discuss already existing trading instruments for the voluntary carbon market. The seminar incorporated a series of presentations on the general characteristics of the carbon markets in Europe, the UK Woodland- and Peatland Code (partly in place, partly under development), the Moor Futures Scheme in Germany and of the motivations/ experiences and expectations of private companies like Coca Cola, First Climate, Forest Finest and Adelphi to support or participate in these kind of schemes.

The questions resulting from these presentations were inventoried and discussed in plenary and reshuffled to questions for two discussion groups on the second day. These questions were about which business (products/ services/ added values) can be sold by protected areas and which technical and institutional aspects will have to be settled if a protected area is willing to start a project with a valuable buy inn for companies. It became clear that these kind of trading projects will have to be credible and reliable and as simple as possible. Therefore it will be wise to start on a small scale and to grow from experience. The potential for this niche market is not in a faraway country but will be found in the region near the doorstep of the locations of the (potentially) buying companies.

At the end, there was too little time to discuss the pro’s and con’s of a trading system which can be shared by the protected areas in Europe. The next step for the joined working group on Economics and Ecosystem Services will be to look into the possibility of comparing existing and developing systems in some detail and to combine the strong points in a proposal for a system which can be discussed and eventually shared between protected areas.

We hope to come back to this question somewhere in the next months. For further information contact Jan Veenstra ( ”

Text issued by Jan Veenstra and Hans Schiphorst