Butterflies, bees, flies – some of whose species we no longer see around anymore because they have become extinct as a result of extensive, densely asphalted areas in between green areas. Plant species that are disappearing, an ocean full of plastic which causes fish to die because they eat it and can”t digest it. Everyone is now well aware of these problems that the behaviour of humans and businesses are causing in nature. But how do we resolve this? How do we do something about it? That is the key question that the EU must answer over the next five years. Society must go through a systemic change in order to prevent the mass extinction of animals and plants on earth,” according to scientific advisors from the European Commission. They therefore want money for research into the causes of the decline in biodiversity so that political policy may be based on scientific results.
Sounds logical, you might think. After all, a decision to ban environmentally harmful fuels, for instance, will have to be based on facts.
Yet this direction taken by the European Commission under the leadership of President Ursula von der Leyen is new. “For the first time in my career, the impact on biodiversity is going to play a role in political decisions,” said John Bell, director of the Bioeconomy in DG Research & Innovation department at the European Commission. It seemed as if he was relieved about this, because so far the subject had been left in the dark. Nobody really took it seriously. Up until now, that is.
Political battle over land
For all decisions in all policy areas, the goal is to identify the damage or contribution that a project has on biodiversity. This will have to apply to all business cases across all fronts. As to how this can be achieved is likely to become a political battle.
First of all, the issues surrounding biodiversity take place on land and water which do not fall under the supervision of the European Union. That is how a British scientist, who attended the discussion during the Innovation Days in Brussels last week, reacted to the European Commission’s proposed plans. Member states decide for themselves how they want to organize their own land in their country. Which is not so easy to address. That’s how it is regulated by law.
Who pays the bill?
According to Professor of Environmental Studies Ingrid Visseren-Hamakers at Radboud University in Nijmegen, when it comes to the system change needed to restore and protect biodiversity, the solution is to pass the bill on to the parties that are responsible for the damage and who are making the most profit from it. Otherwise, the section of the population that cannot afford the transition to a biodiversity-friendly economy will not support it. To a large extent, the perpetrators are the large-scale businesses that produce, sell and emit harmful substances. In other words, multinationals such as major oil companies. Yet they were not at the table during this discussion. And there was also no one who spoke up about this. Which might well prove to be an obstacle in the way of achieving this objective.
New kind of business case
In the coming years, the work that needs to be done is to make sure that the core of a good business case is no longer only based on making money. The way in which a business burdens or benefits the environment and biodiversity must also be factored in, according to Visseren. That also requires research paid for by Europe.
The fact that it is urgent, which has of course been known for a long time, was underlined by Visseren-Hamakers. She used a slide for this which made clear, among other things, that a total of one million animal species are at risk of extinction. On another slide she showed that humankind is severely overburdening nature, including water, soil and air, and that this is a negative trend. In her view, the ecosystem is at present like a piece of cloth that is decaying at a rapid rate and whose threads are falling apart. “Makers of environmental policy have never managed to reverse this trend over the past 50 years.”
Money for research
Preparation of a strategic research plan with funding from the European Horizon Fund (around €100 billion) is underway and should be made available before the end of the year. This should help in reversing the trend.