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EU Environment Commissioner urges more action to save biodiversity

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It is an almost invisible crisis that threatens our food security, our health and the quality of the atmosphere in which we live. The collapse of biodiversity threatens to wipe out one million living species.

Euronews spoke to the European Commissioner for the Environment, Virginijus Sinkevičius to discuss the deal recently agreed by the EU institutions which bans products linked to deforestation, and ask how it will impact people’s daily lives and what it will mean for biodiversity.

“Now Europeans will know that when buying chocolate, coffee in the stores, they will know that these products don’t come from deforested land”, said Virginijus Sinkevičius. “I think this is our pride and this is our credibility to ensure that…our consumption patterns here in Europe do not drive forest losses around the globe. But we also have a credible legislation which ensures that our trading — or to say our consumption — does not drive the processes.”

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Biodiversity should be at the centre stage of international concern because of the UN’s COP15 summit in Montreal, that the Commissioner will be attending. But it doesn’t appear to be attracting as much attention as the COP27 climate conference that just took place last month. 

“I think it’s not a lack of interest, but maybe more of a lack of awareness and understanding. With climate, we are probably ten years ahead of where we are with biodiversity policies”, Sinkevičius explained.

“Climate is much easier to negotiate and understand. First of all, you have this overarching goal of 1.5 degrees, which everyone on the street can relate to and understand very well. Secondly, I think the Paris [Climate Agreement] helped increase awarness of the climate a lot because it was a historic agreement. So there is always additional attention from the media, from policymakers, and from civil society who want to know if we are delivering on those huge promises that we have made, which gave them hope”, he added.

“So I think all of that combined is there. For biodiversity we are not yet there. We still need an overarching goal, something similar to 1.5 degrees. Societies still don’t understand what biodiversity is. Everyone might have a completely different opinion, and I think too often people think it’s just about environment. To be honest, it’s about humans, first of all, and the health of our planet”, the European Commissioner for the Environment told Euronews.

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In the face of so many current crises, Euronews asked Commissioner Sinkevičius for his thoughts and concerns about the potential for climate fatigue. 

“You can [be fatigued], and you can be tired of [the climate]. Sometimes it looks like it’s not getting immediate attention, but the problem hasn’t disappeared”, he replied.

“COVID-19 had a tragic impact on our society with the number of deaths, but we were lucky to have a vaccine. Now we have a situation of war, which, of course, draws our immediate attention. But you also have a pressure on our economy with energy bills rising up with inflation increasing. But one day there will be a peace treaty, hopefully sooner rather than later.”

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But, he explained, “for the biodiversity crisis, for the climate crisis, there won’t be a vaccine or a peace treaty. So we have to advance those policies. Sometimes they might not receive immediate attention. Sometimes they might be very complicated. But I think we have already proven many times that the 2019 decision to introduce the European Green Deal has been the correct one. And even now in the background of war and the energy crisis, we see that the solution is the Green Deal, and the development of renewables, and ensuring that the projects are actually put out as fast as possible.”

The EU tackles biodiversity

When asked what are the EU’s goals for this COP15, Commissioner Sinkevičius said, “we need a global agreement, we need a deal. But it has to be ambitious. So it has to have a 30 by 30 goal, which I think can be equal to 1.5 degrees or the Paris momentum, where we had agreed to protect 30% of land territories and 30% of marine territories.”

“That’s not going to be enough. Secondly, of course, we need to ensure at least 20% of nature restoration efforts will be deployed by the year 2030 and by the year 2040. Overall, by 2050, we need to stop human induced biodiversity loss and that has to be our overarching goal. Last but not least, funding. Funding will be, as always, a tricky question, which will require lots of emphasis from all parties. But I think what’s most important is to ensure that we don’t have a gap with regards to the funding and implementation of the goals agreed, because we are already two years behind. We’re talking about the framework up to 2030, which had to be agreed post-2020.”

Euronews
EU Environment Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius speaks to EuronewsEuronews

During the COP27, the financial rift between the global North and global South was one of the conference’s major talking points. Euronews asked Virginijus Sinkevičius for this thoughts on this.

“Inevitably, that split is going to be there. And as always, one side will be saying that if you want us to do more, you need to put more on the table. On the other side, we have a situation where the economic situation is very different than what we had two years ago. So it’s very difficult to put additional money on the table. I’m proud that the EU again will have a credible position. We pledged that we will double our spending for biodiversity and we have done that. I’m also very thankful to France and Germany, who did so as well. We need other developed countries, of course, to step it up. But what’s very clear, and we have to be realistic, is that there will never be enough money raised. But what we have to do is to use it effectively”, he replied.

When asked how much money is needed and where this money would come from, Commissioner Sinkevičius admitted that, “it’s difficult to say how much money is needed, and there are different estimations. And as I always say, it still probably wouldn’t be enough.” 

“There are countries who are calling for €100 billion per year. I think, at this moment, that is absolutely unrealistic. Because if you look where the money comes from — the countries’ pledges and countries’ funds, or EU funding, they come mainly from the development budgets.”

“We have to ensure that using the current funding mechanism, we also tap into a possibilities from other sources: philanthropists, investment banks, especially international ones. I think they, and the private sector have to play a crucial role in adding additional funding. So there is a potential of additional funding. I think the current funding mechanism can be open for that, and that will be also one of the topics we discuss during the negotiations”, he concluded.

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