LIFE Programme & Natura 2000

The financial instrument for the environment or L’Instrument Financier pour l’Environnement (LIFE) started thanks to European Parliament support. MEP Hemmo Muntingh in particular strongly advocated the need for a European environmental fund.

In its first phase (LIFE I: 1992-1995), the Programme had a budget of ECU 400 million, and this money helped finance 731 environmental projects.

Throughout the 90s, LIFE helped develop inventories of potential Natura 2000 sites, thereby forging an impenetrable link between it and the Natura 2000 network, which protects the most endangered habitats and species across Europe.

Natura 2000 is the EU-wide network of nature conservation areas set up to ensure the survival of Europe’s most valuable species and habitats. It is not restricted to nature reserves, but based on a much broader principle of conservation and sustainable use.

LIFE played a crucial role in preparing management plans for Natura 2000 sites. Funds were used to develop a system for designing and adopting management plans. France was pivotal in developing ‘document d’objectifs’ (DOCOB), which is a template for site management planning and is still used today. Multiple LIFE projects have since developed thousands of such management plans.

Also, a specific strand called ‘LIFE TCY – Third countries’ raised awareness of environmental issues in third countries. The 2014-20 LIFE programme, with a budget of €3.4 billion, was divided into two sub- programmes, one for environment (representing 75% of the overall financial envelope) and one for climate action (representing 25% of the envelope). During this programming period the new category "Integrated projects" was introduced.  These projects support authorities in EU Member States to implement environmental and climate plans, programmes and strategies developed at regional, multi-regional or national level.