The EU does not have a future on a depleted planet

Europe's World

Climate & Energy

Picture of Marco Lambertini
Marco Lambertini

Director General of WWF International

Marco Lambertini is Director General of WWF International

In recent years, EU leaders and politicians have devoted time and attention – with mixed results – to priorities like migration, job security and global stability. Notably absent from this list are efforts to halt climate change and environmental degradation. When the 28 European Heads of State and Government meet, they rarely spend time discussing these issues, even though they are palpably felt by a large majority of European citizens, as demonstrated by the strong reaction to the Commission’s intention to review the ‘Nature Directives’.

The political establishment continues to underestimate the importance of environmental issues despite the fact that it is likely impossible to achieve long-lasting results on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), of which poverty alleviation and sustainable and equitable economic development are examples, if we don’t secure the goals on climate, biodiversity, forests and freshwater systems.

To put it bluntly: it is impossible for political leaders to build a stable and prosperous society in a degraded and depleted environment. If we are to properly recognise the interrelationship between a healthy planet and the health of our society, the collective cultural mind-set is in need of urgent change.

It is impossible for political leaders to build a stable and prosperous society in a degraded and depleted environment

The evidence has never been clearer. Climate change and environmental degradation are now unavoidable realities of our everyday life in Europe, with extreme weather events such as flooding, droughts and heat waves becoming the norm. The conflicts over increasingly scarce natural resources have also become a proven push factor for internal and international migration, potentially leading to around 200 million climate migrants globally by 2050. In the words of security experts, climate change and environmental degradation are classified as “threat multipliers”, putting our security, economic competitiveness, social cohesion and political order at risk – both in Europe and globally.

The recently published Living Planet Report has demonstrated that human activities are driving our planet to the brink, and the window for action is closing rapidly. As a global community, we must collectively rethink and redefine how we value, protect and restore nature.

The good news is that the next two years present an excellent opportunity for EU leaders to formulate effective responses and put the well-being of those who depend on a thriving environment at the centre of their thinking.

In 2019, citizens will vote for EU leaders and politicians to take office at a time when the planet – as many would argue – is on the brink of a sixth mass extinction. To secure Europe’s sustainable transition, citizens need politicians with vision, determination and an ability to break away from status-quo thinking and policy responses. This new generation of politicians needs to see climate and environmental action not just as a response to a threat, but also as an opportunity to unlock Europe’s full potential. As the European Union’s share in the global economy falls in comparison to other faster growing regions, new opportunities for European and global leadership are being offered by the sustainable blue and green economies that will occupy the centre of tomorrow’s global economic order.

The EU must show global leadership

This vision already exists in the form of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The EU now needs to live up to its international commitments. This will require improved governance structures that reflect these important priorities at the EU level. The next President of the European Commission must accept full responsibility over sustainable development and appoint a Vice-President for Climate and Natural Resources to oversee the challenges and opportunities of our changing climate and environment across all policies related to agriculture, trade, finance, fisheries and international development.

Furthermore, the EU must show global leadership. In 2020, world leaders will come together to negotiate a new international agreement on biodiversity and take stock of the progress being made towards the Paris Climate Agreement and SDGs. It is likely that 2020 will mark the failure to achieve the global Aichi Biodiversity Targets adopted under the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, an international environmental agreement dedicated to the sustainable use and conservation of biodiversity. Following on from the action it took on climate in Paris in 2015, the EU should position itself as a “nature champion” in 2020 by advocating for an ambitious and comprehensive agreement. This would be the litmus test for our newly elected EU leaders. Will they be up to the challenge and lead the world towards a new “Global Deal for Nature and People” capable of reversing nature loss by 2030? EU leaders and member states can, and must, negotiate the ambitious global agreement needed to halt and reverse the unprecedented loss of nature if we are to safeguard the natural systems upon which our societies depend.

Our world is at a crossroads and has the opportunity to change our relationship with the planet. Either we continue with a development model that takes nature for granted and ignores the consequences of our wasteful and unsustainable use of natural resources or we transition to a model that considers environmental sustainability as a prerequisite for long-lasting and just development. I have no doubt that the EU will continue to play a key role in leading the systemic transformation towards a future where socio-economic development preserves rather than degrades the natural infrastructure. The EU can seize the opportunity and commit more fully to the Deal for Climate and a new Deal for Nature and People that will lay the foundation for a stable, prosperous, resilient and just society.

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