From environmental ethics to nature conservation policy: Natura 2000 and the burden of proof

Natura 2000 is a network of natural sites whose aim is to preserve species and habitats of relevance in the European Union. The policy underlying Natura 2000 has faced widespread opposition from land users and received extensive support from environmentalists. This paper addresses the ethical framework for Natura 2000 and the probable moral assumptions of its main stakeholders. Arguments for and against Natura 2000 were analyzed and classified according to “strong” or “weak” versions of the three main theories of environmental ethics – anthropocentrism, biocentrism, and ecocentrism. Weak (intergenerational) anthropocentrism was found to underlie the Natura 2000 network itself and the positions of environmentalists, while strong (traditional) anthropocentrism pervaded the positions of economic developers. Land users seemed to fall somewhere between weak and strong anthropocentrism. The paper discusses the relation between ethics and different attitudes towards Natura 2000, highlighting some of the implications for the network’s ongoing implementation. It is shown that Natura 2000 achieves a strong reversal of the burden of proof from conservation to economic development and land use change under anthropocentrism. It is argued that the alleged theoretical divide between anthropocentrism and non-anthropocentrism in relation to the burden of proof does not seem to hold in practice. Finally, it is predicted that the weak versions of anthropocentrism, biocentrism, and ecocentrism, are likely to converge extensively in respect to nature conservation policy measures.
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