How geoscience can contribute to Europe’s “man on the moon” environmental effort
6 October 2020
On 30 September 2020, the EGU and the European Parliament Intergroup on ‘Climate Change, Biodiversity and Sustainable Development’ co-hosted the science for policy event, Integrating science into the EU Green Deal. This virtual event, which had more than 300 participants, brought together two panels featuring geoscientists, policymakers, and representatives from international organisations.
The event focused on the European Green Deal, a roadmap for turning climate and environmental challenges into opportunities with ambitious targets, including: reaching climate neutrality in Europe by 2050; addressing the drivers of biodiversity loss in Europe; and adopting a zero-pollution action plan for air, water, and soils. This event specifically focused on how research and scientific expertise can help achieve the Green Deal’s biodiversity and zero pollution targets.
Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Norbert Lins, the Intergroup’s Vice-Chair, kicked off the discussion by calling the EU Green Deal the equivalent to Europe’s “man on the moon”. Lins underscored the important role that science must play in this effort. “For such an ambitious goal,” he said, “you need first vision – this we certainly have – and then science.”
The next speaker, EGU President Alberto Montanari, highlighted the important role that geoscientists can play to help Europe reach the Green Deal’s targets. “Any policy, to be effective, needs to be supported by knowledge, education, and communication,” he said. “The mission of EGU”, Montanari added, “is to provide the scientific basis and education for sustainable development, and this is why we feel is it our duty to play a key role in achieving the Green Deal’s targets”.
During his remarks, Montanari also announced the publication of a new EGU document, How geoscience can support the European Green Deal. The document outlines key aspects that the geoscience community, through its research and expertise, can support in two of the Green Deal’s main policy areas, biodiversity and pollution, and provides examples of recent scientific breakthroughs that may assist in meeting the initiative’s targets.
Panel on Biodiversity
The event’s first panel focused on how policymakers and geoscientists can work together to achieve the aims outlined in the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030. The first speaker, MEP Norbert Lins, discussed the strategy’s aim to increase the EU-wide network of protected areas to 30% for both land and sea and highlighted the need for more data to help select areas to be protected in the future. “It is not simply about quantity or percentage,” he explained. “We have to select the right areas, especially if we want to link the [Green Deal’s] biodiversity aspect with its climate goals.”
The next speaker, Roby Biwer, who is a member of European Committee of the Regions and a member and former mayor of Bettembourg council in Luxembourg, emphasised the Committee’s support for the integration of science in daily policymaking. To overcome a lack of expertise at the local administrative level, for example, Biwer mentioned that his region has joined an association of more than 50 municipalities to work together on nature protection and restoration to combat biodiversity loss. This partnership has created synergies in finance, equipment, and expertise to help complete projects to improve biodiversity on a local level. Biwer also highlighted the need to “encourage pilot projects supported by the European Parliament like Science meets Regions to further explore the link between science and the Green Deal challenges”.
Luc Bas, Director of the European Regional Office for the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), then emphasised the need for the EU to invest in nature-based solutions. He also highlighted the benefits that increased collaboration between scientists and policymakers would bring. “We still see that there are too many scientists working in their own communities,” Bas said. These researchers “do a lot of applaudable work,” he said, “but it has to be a policy relevant; it has to be put on the table in time for the policy decisions; it has to be embraced, and it has to be very well communicated to the public.” Lastly, Bas highlighted the need for scientists to act sooner rather than later. “We can use more data,” he said, “but we should not wait until we have the perfect picture before we act.”
The panel’s final speaker, Iris Moeller, a Professor of Geography at Trinity College Dublin, discussed the intimate connection between landforms and the biodiversity they support as well as the need to understand the dynamic nature of these environments in order to protect them. “We should use the science and technology that we have,” she said, “to inform ourselves as best we can about the natural dynamism that is supporting our biodiversity,” Moeller also pointed out the importance of allowing nature to do its own work. “Our science is increasingly telling us that our biodiverse, dynamic, and complex natural processes can cope with environmental change if and only if we don’t stand in their way and prevent them from doing so.”
Panel on Zero Pollution
EGU Vice-President Helen Glaves introduced the event’s second panel, which highlighted the importance of eliminating pollution across Europe in order to protect biodiversity and human health
The panel’s first speaker, MEP Mohammed Chahim, who formerly worked as a researcher in the Netherlands, began by expressing his disappointment with the European Council’s proposed funding cuts to research and innovation. “Without the right research and innovation, it will be difficult for us to reach the climate neutrality target that we’ve set for 2050,” he said. Chahim also indicated his willingness to hear scientific perspectives and incorporate them into policy. “As a Member of Parliament, I’m always open to hearing good suggestions from the field, from industry, from the scientific world, from innovation, and seeing to what extent I can incorporate their ideas into policies that we create within the Parliament,” he said.
Anna Papagrigoraki, Sustainability Director of the Confederation of European paper industries, was the panel’s second speaker. She explained that companies also need scientific data to support their strategies, investments, and decision making. Papagrigoraki also underscored the importance of innovative technology to reach the Green Deal goals. “Finding innovative, breakthrough technologies would also be key to further reducing other emissions to water and air towards the Zero Pollution Action Plan’s targets”, she said.
The panel’s final speaker, Erik van Sebille, an Associate Professor in oceanography and climate change at the University of Utrecht’s Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research, described the issues surrounding global plastic pollution as well as potential solutions. “We are able to figure out where to most effectively take plastic out of the ocean because we have scientific models of our ocean, which enable us to simulate how plastic moves through it.” Van Sebille also emphasised the importance of testing any solution before implementing it. “If we ever want to put out a solution,” he said, “it is better to first test drive it in a Digital Twin of the Ocean – these types of [modeling] tools can make sure that our solutions are supported by science.”
MEP Stelios Kympouropoulos ended the event with some final words regarding the Green Deal’s importance. “The Green Deal is essential to protect biodiversity, nature, and forests, and at the same time to protect our daily life,” he said. Kympouropoulos also emphasised the value of involving all stakeholders in the process and reaching an agreement regarding the initiative’s emission budget. “We need to fully engage all local and regional authorities if we want to see tangible results” regarding air pollution, sea pollution, and global warming, he said. “Europe needs all parties to come in consensus.”