Destruction of nature as threatening as climate crisis, EU deputy warns | Biodiversity

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.

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.

Frans Timmermans
Frans Timmermans: ‘We are killing species at an unprecedented rate. And killing those species will make our survival less likely.’ Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

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.”

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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 audiences around 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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