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AU is part of moving the green transition forward in Europe

The EU has committed itself to being climate neutral by 2050. This goal is important, ambitious and, to put it mildly, so dispersed that it is hard to make heads or tails of it. The EU project, MERLIN, with a budget of just over EUR 22 million, will play an active role in the green transition in Europe. It will calculate the benefits of initiatives and bring together experience and relevant stakeholders for future initiatives, thus ensuring that focus is on initiatives that can actually make an impact.

Current climate and environmental challenges and dramatic declines in biodiversity require rapid and ambitious action. The EU has committed itself to achieving climate neutrality by no later than 2050, and achieving this goal will require the transition of the European economy and society; a transition that must be cost-effective, fair and socially balanced.

MERLIN is a new, ambitious EU project that has just seen the light of day. With a total budget of more than EUR 22 million, the project will contribute to the implementation of a number of projects to support the green transition across the entire region. MERLIN will also gather knowledge and create a knowledge bank to ensure that more new projects are launched across Europe.

The particular focus of the MERLIN project will be to safeguard our arguably most important resource: freshwater and the ecosystems related to this vital natural resource. Admittedly, freshwater areas only make up a small percentage of the planet's surface, and the prevalence of freshwater systems pales in comparison to forests and oceans, for example. However, in an ecological context, freshwater systems contribute a wide range of services, so to speak, to humanity: they give us access to clean drinking water, they water our fields, and they are an important contributor to global biodiversity. Another, important function of freshwater systems is capturing and storing CO2 in wetlands, for example.

In other words, there is good reason to combine our efforts and determinedly work together to ensure a pan-European effort. Annette Baattrup-Pedersen, senior researcher at the Department of Ecoscience at Aarhus University, is participating in the project.

"The basic idea is to identify the initiatives and restoration activities surrounding freshwater systems with the greatest potential for slowing down climate change and loss of biodiversity, while simultaneously seeking out and securing collaboration with the European private sector. Water is life, and freshwater areas are probably some of the most polluted and degraded ecosystems on the planet. At the same time, freshwater ecosystems are pivotal to moving the green transition in the right direction,” explains Annette Baattrup-Pedersen.

A little less conversation – a little green action

There are hundreds of different ways to go about this task on the European continent, and it would be impossible to focus on everything at once. For this reason, the group has selected 17 specific examples that, in their own way, represent some of the particular challenges attached to nature restoration projects for freshwater systems. They range from the major Rhine waterway flowing through heavy industry to the small watercourses of the Finnish plains: from Denmark’s low-lying land areas to the Danube's majestic path through Romania.

One of the options is called Nature-based Solutions (NbS), and this approach is becoming a key element in the joint fight against climate change.

MERLIN is an acronym for Mainstreaming Ecological Restoration of freshwater-related ecosystems in a Landscape context: INnovation, upscaling and transformation, and the project will gather and analyse the results of the 17 projects, demonstrate how the projects contribute to the green transition and the inherent challenges it poses, and provide an overview of the political frameworks and stakeholders attached to the different regions and projects. Another aspect of the project will to develop strategies that bring into play freshwater areas with the greatest potential to contribute to the green transition at a European scale. This will include identifying where in Europe and with which measures we can achieve the greatest effect and the best chance of success.

"In this way, we can support a movement that makes nature restoration more widespread and accessible across Europe because we’ll be ensuring access to knowledge and experience exchange. Specifically, we’re going to establish the MERLIN Academy and MERLIN Marketplace, which will ensure learning through webinars and similar, as well as the opportunity for universities, politicians, stakeholders, sectors and investors to interact with each other. The aim of the project is to disseminate NbS projects across Europe where it makes the most sense, and to attract financial stakeholders where there is potential value in collaboration," explains Annette Baattrup-Pedersen

Financial analyses have been incorporated in MERLIN to present the European regions with green growth potentials and investment opportunities for a number of private stakeholders. The project will present win-win scenarios within areas such as water supply, insurance, and agriculture, where it will be possible to take the lead with solid investments in sustainable projects that benefit both nature and investors.

The Danish package

The MERLIN project is divided into a number of thematic areas. Each of these areas will try to identify the best-suited and most financially interesting solutions in a broad perspective. The overall objective of the project is to develop a range of strategies at EU level that can be spread and scaled as required across the continent - or the rest of the world for that matter.

Annette Baattrup-Pedersen is in charge of one of the five work packages in which she, together with her European colleagues, will identify areas with the greatest potential for restoration. She will do so by assessing which specific initiatives will yield the greatest results if they are implemented and by finding financial solutions.

A key part of the package is preparing a template to value the benefits of restoring specific areas. This is where modelling takes centre stage. In collaboration with a Danish company, user-interface software will be developed to make is possible to see and integrate the results of a specific restoration. The aim is to create modelling that can identify initiatives within a given area that will provide the greatest returns for both nature and society.

"Nature restoration is actually many different things, and depending on which area you focus on, there may be several different ways to make low-lying areas wet again in order to reduce CO2 emissions, for example. MERLIN will ensure knowledge-sharing across all of Europe, so a dispersed need can turn into a specific project with calculated returns and with different investors already identified.

We’ll identify a number of private stakeholders for the project and identify potential investors for nature restoration projects, while also look into any barriers that may exist. Perhaps there will be a need to participate more actively in the green transition, or there may be a real financial interest in reducing the impact of climate change. We don’t have an overview of this yet, and establishing this overview is one of the goals of MERLIN," explains Annette Baattrup-Pedersen

Click here to read more about this considerable project

Annette Baattrup-Pedersen, senior researcher
Department of Ecoscience
Aarhus University,
Tel. no.: + 45 87 15 87 76
Email: abp@ecos.au.dk