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The EU’s BEST Initiative: What it is, where we are and where we want to go

Karin Zaunberger is policy officer in charge of biodiversity
protection in DG Environment, European Commission.

What it is 
The objective of the EU’s BEST Initiative is to promote conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity and ecosystem services including ecosystem-based approaches to climate change adaptation and mitigation in European Outermost Regions and European Overseas Countries and Territories. In July 2008 a conference on "The European Union and its Overseas Entities: Strategies to counter Climate Change and Biodiversity Loss" was held in La Réunion under the French Presidency of the European Union resulting in the “Message from Reunion Island”. BEST is one follow-up to the "Message from Reunion Island". 

Where we are

The European Parliament’s BEST Preparatory Action, thanks to the engagement and support of MEP Maurice Ponga, co-chair of the working group  “Islands & Overseas Entities” of this Intergroup, first adopted in 2010 and reconducted twice in 2011 and 2012, provided seed money of a total of 6 million € for the initiative. The first two years were implemented through 2 open calls for proposals BEST-2011 and BEST-2012 and allowed the funding of 16 projects in in the regions of the South Pacific, Indian Ocean, Caribbean Region, French Guyana, Greenland, Antarctic and Macronesia, addressing issues such as activities for designation and management of terrestrial and marine protected areas; activities for combatting invasive alien species, synergies using ecosystem services for climate change adaptation and mitigation; valuation of ecosystem services; increasing knowledge; networking, education, capacity building and outreach activities and involving organisations in the Outermost Regions, in the Overseas Countries Territories, in Member States, NGOs, regional organisations and International Organisations.

Further 35 proposals passed all evaluation criteria, but could not be funded, as the budget available had been used.  The overall requested budget was more than 6 times higher than the available budget, which demonstrates the high demand for biodiversity funding in the EU Outermost Regions and Overseas Countries and Territories. It should be further noted that the two open calls led to a mobilization of an additional 9.5 million € for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity and ecosystem services and the use of ecosystem-based approaches to climate change adaptation and mitigation. This shows that the stakeholders, the countries, territories and regions are willing to invest themselves in BEST and that they have moved away from a classical donor-recipient relationship and developed more of a partnership approach, which is in line with the EU Biodiversity Strategy. In the end of 2012 a first partnership with the French Development Aid Agency (AfD) provided an additional support of 800 000 € supporting 2 reserve list proposals and supporting the work towards a sustainable scheme.

Where we want to go

The third and last year of the BEST Preparatory Action was implemented through an open call for tender trying to  create the critical mass to achieve the transition towards a sustainable scheme – facility – mechanism – framework, which will allow swift and easy access for funding activities for biodiversity conservation, sustainable use of ecosystem services including ecosystem-based approaches for climate change adaptation and mitigation in EU Outermost Regions and Overseas Countries and Territories.

The successful tenderer is a consortium led by IUCN bringing together key players of all the regions of the EU overseas. It consists of IUCN, UICN France, WWF France, UNEP SPAW RAC, Fundo Regional para Ciência, Terres Australes et Antarctiques françaises; subcontracting is foreseen with  Conservation International Foundation, South Atlantic Environment Research Institute, De Visu Digital Document Design and OneAgency-AUSY Belgium.

The expected results of the contract are multi-fold and include communicating, funding and assessing activities. The consortium will be setting up platform that shall enable and facilitate information sharing on funding availability from different sources. The central BEST team will be supported by 7 regional knowledge hubs which shall develop ecosystem profiles using the tested methodology of the CEPF, the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund, who is actively engaged in the task.  It needs to be stressed that the work shall be carried out in collaboration with on-going activities and build on already existing achievements.

The BEST III launch on 31 January 2014 attracted many key actors from ORs and OCTs, representatives of several DGs of the European Commission and other stakeholders. This is very encouraging with a view to the work to be achieved in the years to come. The planned International Conference on Biodiversity and Climate Change to be held in Guadeloupe from 22-25 October 2014 may become an important milestone for the transition of the EU’s BEST Initiative into a sustainable facility.