Commissioner Sinkevičius opening speech at EU Green Week Lisbon, 19 October 2020,  Lisbon

 

A very good morning to everyone, and thank you for hosting the opening of Green Week 2020!

My warmest thanks to Mayor Medina, and to all of your team for the hard work you have put in to organise today, under exceptionally difficult circumstances.

I’m sure it’s not quite the opening you had in mind. But congratulations for your perseverance, and your determination to make it happen.

This year’s Green Week is all about protecting and restoring our precious Nature and Biodiversity.

It’s very fitting that the opening is hosted by a winner of the European Green Capital Award.

Well-planned cities, with interconnected parks and gardens, are not just better places to live and breathe. They are also havens for biodiversity, often richer in wildlife than many people realise.

I’m sure we will hear more about the excellent work that Lisbon has been doing in these areas later on. If I’m speaking to you virtually today, that is because of the pandemic.

The Coronavirus outbreak has brought unprecedented challenges, and our lives will be very different when we emerge from the crisis.

But some things have become unexpected clear. For many people, the pandemic has highlighted the importance of the relationship between people and nature. It’s shown just one of the many dangers of losing biodiversity.

When we lose our nature, we undermine the web of life we depend on, and we actually increase the risk of diseases passing from wildlife to people. We need nature for so many reasons. We depend on it for food, clean air, for clean and fresh water.

It regulates the climate, it keeps pests and diseases under control, it reduces the risk of natural disasters, and it plays a vital role in our mental and physical health.

When we forget these things, we put ourselves in danger.

The Green Week is an attempt to correct that, to give space for nature in our lives. Nature is our safety net – and it’s time to mend the holes in the net.

Scientists and advocacy groups have been repeating these messages for many years, often with little success.

But the wind is changing. Biodiversity and nature are riding high on the EU policy agenda.

As Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in her State of the Union speech a few weeks ago, nature cannot continue to pay this price.

That’s why, in May this year, in the midst of the pandemic, we came forward with a new Strategy for Biodiversity.

It tackles all the key drivers of biodiversity loss, from unsustainable use of land and sea to overexploitation of natural resources, pollution, and invasive alien species.

The timing wasn't an accident. We held it back, due to the pandemic, and we strengthened its capacity to contribute to the EU economy.

As a result, it’s now an important element of the EU's recovery plan, with a role in building resilience and preventing future outbreaks, and a source of immediate business and investment opportunities to help restore the EU's economy. It includes a wide range of ambitious commitments.

It brings new, binding targets to restore our damaged ecosystems and rivers.

Measures to improve the health of EU protected habitats and species, expanding our protected areas to cover 30% of EU land and sea.

And a set of clear objectives to bring back pollinators, reduce pollution, and green our cities over the coming years.

The Green Week will see in-depth sessions discussing every aspect of the strategy, searching for ways to turn these commitments into a reality – on the ground. In the end, it all comes down to that.

We have no use for a theoretical strategy. It has to deliver the changes that we need.

That means, real-world implementation, down at the local level.

That’s why the Strategy calls for all cities with more then 20 000 inhabitants to develop ambitious Urban Greening Plans by the end of 2021.

It’s an opportunity for Lisbon, and our other Green Capitals and Green Leaf cities, to show how it can be done. These pioneering cities are taking great strides to increase the level of urban sustainability.

To improve the quality of citizens’ lives. You’re showing the world what a green city is, and the things that can be achieved. 

That’s exactly what we need. We need to show that the transition to more sustainable, greener cities can create healthier urban areas, for the benefit of the planet, our citizens and the economy.

The Commission is supporting these urban transitions in every way it can.

Next week, we will work with the Mayors of the Green City Accord, to be launched in the week of regions and cities.

Our aim is to provide guidance and support, and make sure that finances are available to spur the change.

Together, we can help shape the future of Europe’s urban environment, and help you to deliver the commitments set out in the Biodiversity Strategy. It’s all about delivery. I want that to be the keyword of Green Week 2020.

Thank you very much for all of you in Lisbon and good luck with the rest of this opening!

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