Destruction of nature as threatening as climate crisis, EU deputy warns #EcologicalCrisis #auspol #StopEcocide

European Commission’s Frans Timmermans says biodiversity situation is ‘really very, very scary’

Jennifer Rankin and Fiona Harvey in Brussels

The human-made crisis engulfing the natural world is “just as threatening, perhaps even more so” than the climate crisis, one of the EU’s most senior officials has warned.

State of the environment report

Speaking to the Guardian, Frans Timmermans, the vice-president of the European Commission, said he hoped “we can heighten the sense of urgency” about the destruction of the natural environment, where the situation is “really very, very scary”.

“We are killing species at an unprecedented rate. And killing those species will make our survival less likely. If we can get that concept into people’s minds more broadly I am sure politicians will have to react to people’s outcry: ‘Well, fix this before you kill us.’”

He cited the threat of losing 1 million species, a figure that comes from a landmark report by the UN’s leading biodiversity body in 2019. In the most comprehensive report of its kind, scientists urged action to protect supplies of food, clean water, pollination and the stable climate that humanity depends on.

But as negotiators gear up for the UN biodiversity summit (Cop15) in Montreal this December, campaigners say efforts to protect the natural world are in crisis because of lack of engagement from governments.

Timmermans, who oversees EU policy on nature protection, said the summit organiser, China, was “fully behind an ambitious agenda in Montreal”. The summit is to be held near the UN biodiversity headquarters in Quebec rather than the original venue in Kunming, because of concerns over China’s zero-Covid policy.

The Dutch politician, who also spoke out about the risk of “conflict and strife” over high energy prices, said more public awareness was needed about the stakes of biodiversity loss “if we don’t change our ways”.

“The public has a really strong sense of the climate crisis and that’s driving politics, certainly in the EU, but probably globally as well. It’s so manifest, the climate crisis, that it’s inevitable that it will need to be addressed by political leaders. The biodiversity crisis is not that manifest to many of our citizens.

“This is just as threatening to our survival as the climate crisis, perhaps even more so.”

He said crises always “focus the mind” but public information campaigns were another way to raise awareness. He cited the example of the broadcasting veteran David Attenborough, whose Blue Planet 2 series shocked audiencesaround the world with images of albatrosses unwittingly feeding their chicks plastic. “Would we be where we are with our plastics legislation – where we went very far in the EU – without David Attenborough?” Timmermans said. “I don’t think we would.”

The EU has banned single-use plastic cutlery, straws, cotton buds and stirrers. Campaigners have described this as a good first step but cautioned that the impact depends on the actions of national governments.

Timmermans expressed guarded optimism that biodiversity would soon be ascribed as much importance as the climate crisis. “I hope we can get to that stage pretty soon. We are not there yet, but [when] these things move it’s not incremental, it’s exponential.”

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The Doughnut of social and planetary boundaries (2017)

Humanity’s 21st century challenge is to meet the needs of all within the means of the planet. In other words, to ensure that no one falls short on life’s essentials (from food and housing to healthcare and political voice), while ensuring that collectively we do not overshoot our pressure on Earth’s life-supporting systems, on which we fundamentally depend – such as a stable climate, fertile soils, and a protective ozone layer. The Doughnut of social and planetary boundaries is a playfully serious approach to framing that challenge, and it acts as a compass for human progress this century.

The environmental ceiling consists of nine planetary boundaries, as set out by Rockstrom et al, beyond which lie unacceptable environmental degradation and potential tipping points in Earth systems. The twelve dimensions of the social foundation are derived from internationally agreed minimum social standards, as identified by the world’s governments in the Sustainable Development Goals in 2015. Between social and planetary boundaries lies an environmentally safe and socially just space in which humanity can thrive.

If you want to look deeper into the Doughnut, and Doughnut Economics, join us at Doughnut Economics Action Lab where we dive into much more detail on what it means for transforming our economies.

Doughnut Economics

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