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The Case for an EU Climate and Nature Czar

The new president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, has indicated that she intends to confront the climate crisis head-on. In doing so, she must avoid the mistakes of her predecessor, who did not go far enough in expanding the scope for environmental policymaking within the European Union.

POTSDAM – As Europe roasts through another record-hot summer, it is encouraging to see that climate change is receiving the attention it deserves from Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president-elect. In confronting the climate emergency, she should acknowledge that rising global temperatures are a threat not just to public health and the economy, but – crucially – also to wildlife.

As a first step, von der Leyen should appoint a climate and biodiversity vice president to work hand in glove with the sector-focused commissioners. The European Union needs a dedicated official to ensure that all EU climate policies are also geared toward protecting nature from the existential risk of both these tipping points. Without such a role, we won’t properly manage the emergency at hand.

Since the Industrial Revolution, roughly half of annual fossil-fuel emissions have been absorbed by the land’s ecosystems and oceans. Without these natural buffers, the world would have warmed by more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels long ago. Hence, by preserving and restoring ecosystems and the wildlife that keeps them viable today, we can advance the push for net-zero emissions by 2050.

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