History of LIFE
The LIFE programme began in 1992 and has to date co-financed more than 4,600 projects. Until 2013, LIFE had contributed approximately €3.1 billion to the protection of the environment. During the current 2014-2020 funding period the programme will contribute approximately €3.4 billion more.
During the late 1980s, public consciousness about environmental threats grew rapidly. Large scale environmental disasters such as the Chernobyl catastrophe focused attention on the need for higher levels of environmental protection. Issues such as the holes in the ozone layer over the poles and global warming prompted an acceleration in European environmental policy-making and institution-building.
However, EU action on the environment can be traced back even earlier. EU financial assistance for nature conservation was first made available in the early 1980s, following on initiatives dating back to the 1970s. From 1972, measures to limit pollution and improve waste management were adopted. Then, 1979 saw the adoption of the Birds Directive, hailed by Birdlife International as ‘one of the soundest pieces of bird conservation legislation worldwide’. The directive called for co-financing for the management of Special Protected Areas dedicated to birdlife preservation.
This recognition of the importance of providing financial assistance for habitat protection was taken forward in 1982 when the European Parliament succeeded in introducing a small budget line for nature conservation, enabling financing of a dozen or so projects. This funding was renewed in 1983 and provided support for small-scale, preparatory projects that nevertheless had a significant impact. In respect of the later ACE Regulations (Action Communautaire pour l’Environnement or EU Actions for the Environment), this support was known as pre-ACE.
ACE – Action Communautaire pour l’Environnement
From the mid-1980s, two Regulations broadened the scope of EU assistance for the environment by establishing the ACE financial instrument. Firstly, Regulation No 1872/84 ran from July 1984 to June 1987 and opened the door for the EU to grant financial support to projects in three fields:
In all, the ACE programme funded 53 nature protection and 55 clean technology projects. The total cost of these projects during the lifetime of the programme (1984-1991) was ECU 98 million, with the EU providing ECU 41 million, or 44.5 percent of the total cost. In addition, a different budget line was made available from 1988 onwards for ‘urgent actions for endangered species’. It was not supported by a Regulation but was included in the annual budget of the Commission by the European Parliament. In total, 50 projects were financed with assistance totalling €3 million under this budget.