Voters and the general public need to increase pressure on politicians to act more urgently in order to protect biodiversity, European Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans argued on Tuesday (13 October).
“If we’re brutally honest, we have to admit that, in the general public, the biodiversity crisis does not have the same sense of urgency as the climate crisis or the COVID crisis,” said Timmermans, who is in charge of the European Green Deal.
“If you want us to actually succeed in getting what we put on the table adopted, you all need to put pressure on the legislators. Both in terms of the government and the European Parliament, there is the lack of sense of urgency in both institutions,” he told a roundtable hosted by Friends of Europe, a think tank.
Under a biodiversity strategy presented in March, the European Commission has moved to legally protect 30% of EU land and sea, but Timmermans said legislation has to go further and support proposals to build a Trans-European Nature Network and protect forests, which are “in a horrible shape”.
Forests and oceans are vital CO2 sinks, which suck carbon from the atmosphere, thereby contributing to global efforts to contain global warming. Carbon is also a key component in soil, but degradation has caused this to be lost in many areas.
Timmermans said the EU needs a new form of agriculture and that resistance to change among the farming community was due to a lack of incentives to reward farmers for taking better care of the land.
“We will need massive investment, we will need concrete plans, and we will need the whole value chain to be part of this,” said Timmermans, adding that Europe needs to stop seeing agriculture as sealed off from the rest of society.
Inger Anderson, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme, also spoke at the debate. She said: “We need to have climate-smart and biodiversity-smart policies that will drive jobs and will drive growth opportunities to kickstart the economies.”
Timmermans said farming communities should be consulted directly to devise business models that promote biodiversity, forest and soil protection.
Pressure also needs to be applied from the corporate side, to ensure food products come from eco-friendly farms, he added.
Emmanuel Faber, Chairman of the Board and CEO of Danone, said that food companies know they need to change, adding: “Climate change is hurting agriculture more than any other industry, any other human activity.”
(Edited by Frédéric Simon)