Strengthening the nature agenda “is going to help us”
Green Week 2015 opened with a lively debate about the urgency and the challenges of protecting nature in Europe.
Frans Timmermans, First Vice-President of the European Commission, opened the 2015 Green Week conference with an explanation of why the European Commission is reviewing its principal nature protection legislation, the EU Birds and Habitats Directives.
Karmenu Vella, Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries
The legislation could be in need of some modernisation, he said, calling on interest groups to back the Commission’s efforts. “There is almost complete consensus in Europe that nature protection should be high on our agenda,” he said. “Better regulation is not lowering standards.”
One of the realities the Commission needs to address, according to Karmenu Vella, EU Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, is that current policies are not working fast enough to meet EU targets to halt the loss of biodiversity and improve the state of Europe’s species, habitats and ecosystems by 2020.
The recently published ‘State of the EU Environment’ and ‘State of Nature in Europe’ reports underlined this, while also showing that properly targeted EU policies can work – endangered species like the otter can thrive when the appropriate measures are in place.
“Nature has been regarded for decades as an impediment to economic progress –“misunderstood, underestimated and often taken for granted,” said Vella. We are now starting to understand the extent of our miscalculation.”
Shift to the circular economy
The opening session also heard how Europe needs to drive change in many other areas to protect natural resources. We have to “rethink the way we work, produce and consume,” said Vice-President Timmermans. One important shift would be to think in terms of the service we need, rather than the product – such as the need to use a car rather than to own one. He noted that the Commission would soon publish new targets for recycling and waste, with a comprehensive proposal on the circular economy, towards the end of 2015.
Progress towards a more circular economy was also showcased by Italian food manufacturers Barilla. The company has set objectives for 2020 to promote healthy lifestyles, sustainable food and social inclusion, and to green its supply chain and factory operations. Its Sustainable Durum Wheat project has reduced the crop’s CO2 footprint by 36 %, increased yields by 20 %, and cut direct production costs by 10 %.
“Green is the new innovation,” said company Vice-Chairman Paolo Barilla, noting how responsibility for nature protection has to be shared between policy-makers, consumers and the food industry. Education was key, he said – children need to be taught to make informed choices as adults, taking into account an awareness of the environment and the need for sustainable and healthy diets. Companies can offer healthy choices and provide full information, he said, but ultimately they have to respond to consumer demand.