Green infrastructure and territorial cohesion

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Courtesy of European Environment Agency (EEA)

The point of departure for this analysis is to support the European process towards territorial cohesion and green infrastructure development, in particular the development of a strategy for green infrastructure. This report explores the concept of green infrastructure, with illustrative examples of green infrastructure initiatives on the ground and further analyses of the integration of green infrastructure into policy sectors. It provides examples of monitoring systems/spatial information that can be utilised for spatial planning of green infrastructure at national and regional levels, and closes with exploitable opportunities and conclusions.

The concept of green infrastructure
No single widely recognised definition of green infrastructure is identified in literature. However, the latest European Commission description of green infrastructure, shown in Box ES.1, adopts an all-embracing version of the concept.

A number of key underlying features and principles of the green infrastructure concept are identified from the literature, including connectivity, multifunctionality and smart conservation. Based on the range of benefits, it is possible to group the definitions of green infrastructure broadly under two concepts based on scale: urban scale and landscape scale (regional, national and transnational). These two uses of the term are obviously related — in both cases, the focus is on the development and protection of networks of green, natural features. Green infrastructure is not only about connecting ecosystems per se, but also about strengthening them and their services — something which can be achieved by (re)-connecting measures, but also by improving the landscape's permeability (which implicates different ecosystems). However, the baseline land use is different: in the first case, it involves a built-up urban area; in the second case, it can involve a built-up area as well as intensively farmed land, or simply an ecosystem of a different type to the one we are trying to connect.

Box ES.1 What is green infrastructure?
Green infrastructure is a concept addressing the connectivity of ecosystems, their protection and the provision of ecosystem services, while also addressing mitigation and adaptation to climate change. It contributes to minimising natural disaster risks, by using ecosystem-based approaches for coastal protection through marshes/flood plain restoration rather than constructing dikes. Green infrastructure helps ensure the sustainable provision of ecosystem goods and services while increasing the resilience of ecosystems. The concept is central to the overall objective of ecosystem restoration, which is now part of the 2020 biodiversity target.

It also promotes integrated spatial planning by identifying multifunctional zones and by incorporating habitat restoration measures and other connectivity elements into various land-use plans and policies, such as linking peri-urban and urban areas or in marine spatial planning policy. Its ultimate aim is contributing to the development of a greener and more sustainable economy by investing in ecosystem-based approaches delivering multiple benefits in addition to technical solutions, and mitigating adverse effects of transport and energy infrastructure.

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