We are at a critical juncture in both our own and our planet’s history: the combined climate and biodiversity crises are now threatening humanity’s survival. Earlier this summer, terrible wildfires, and enormous floods struck numerous European countries, killing hundreds of people, causing billions in damage, and generating serious economic, social, and health implications. This was a result of climate change, but it was also a result of the extinction of biodiversity.
Biodiversity collapse is dramatic enough in and of itself, as it basically translates to the disintegration of the living world. However, some people believe that biodiversity loss has no impact on humans, despite the fact that it does. For example, healthy, intact ecosystems are necessary for trapping and sequestering carbon, retaining water, and preventing soil erosion. The continued devastation of the environment not only hastens the warming of the atmosphere but also renders us more vulnerable to the worst consequences of the climate crisis.
Faced with this truth, we should devote our resources to resolving the dire situation that has resulted from our species’ harmful behaviors. As I type these words, representatives from around the world are negotiating a new Global Biodiversity Framework, which will be finalized at the United Nations’ forthcoming biodiversity summit, COP15. I’d like to use this chance to consider the EU’s potential role as a global leader in biodiversity protection.
Since the industrial revolution, Europe has accounted for the majority of global greenhouse gas emissions. Our continent has been a leader in destroying biodiversity, both within its borders and beyond the world, thanks in large part to the intensive industries it has introduced to the four corners of the earth. Europe, in my opinion, has a historical responsibility, if not a duty, to lead the global movement to protect and restore the environment.
Despite its flaws in the past, Europe has recently made significant progress in terms of biodiversity. To a large extent, this is due to the European Union. The EU and its 27 Member States are an unprecedented force for progress in transforming our economic model and our relationship with nature, from the Birds and Habitats Directives (the most powerful nature legislation in the world, protecting over one million km2 of natural habitat) to the European Green Deal and Biodiversity Strategy for 2030, with the ongoing development of a nature restoration law.
Despite the fact that there are still many rivers to cross, the EU is progressively taking domestic measures to safeguard biodiversity. However, concentrating on our front yard is insufficient.
The EU does not, in reality, exist in a void. Every country on the planet is part of the same biosphere: coal-fired power plants in Poland harm Peru and deforestation in Brazil harms Belgium. Beyond a sense of obligation, it is simply in our best interests to ensure that nature is conserved around the world, and it is the best investment the EU could make in our common future.
The first part of the UN biodiversity meeting, COP15, will be held in October. This high-level meeting, as well as the discussions leading up to it, provide an enormous opportunity for the EU to display its global leadership.
Demonstrating this begins at home: the EU must live up to its promises to act quickly to conserve and restore nature, and it must not wait any longer to demonstrate significant ambition for the future. The EU can and should be louder in advocating for the required environmental ambitions around the world: it has the responsibility, experience, and power to do so. We need a global nature-positive goal: we need to not only halt but also recover, biodiversity, at the very least by 2030, with a full recovery by 2050.