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EU's youngest commissioner on how to turn climate crisis around

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EU's youngest commissioner on how to turn climate crisis around
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With the European Union’s focus on the climate action and the EU Green Deal, Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries Virginijus Sinkevičius is launching a new Global Coalition for Biodiversity at World Wild Life Day in Monaco.

The youngest Commissioner at the European Union, Lithuanian Sinkevičius was a member of Lithuanian Parliament and Minister of the Economy and Innovation of the Republic of Lithuania before taking the post at the European Commission.

Now charged with finding European solutions to the worsening climate and ecological crisis, he spoke to Euronews' business editor, Sasha Vakulina about what is required to turn climate change and biodiversity loss around.

Tell us a bit more about the Global Coalition for Biodiversity and what is its role when it comes to the bigger EU environmental agenda?

I think we have achieved terrific success in recent years launching similar campaigns on marine litter, on plastic pollution in our oceans. Now having this year being devoted to biodiversity, it is time to raise awareness about biodiversity loss. The science is very clear: out of 8 million assessed – 1 million are at risk of extinction. We have to halt biodiversity loss caused by the human activities. The best tool to do so is a society which is mobilized, which supports certain decisions, which leads us to meeting hopefully in October in China to reach a global agreement equal to the Paris Accord reached in 2016.

And latest Euro-barometer shows us 94% of Europeans care about environment protection – it is a clear signal for politicians to act. And I am truly proud that the European Commission did so from the very first days, introducing our flagship initiative – the European Green Deal.

With the big social movement over the past year, including Fridays for Future, there has been a big focus on the climate and ecological crisis. Should focus shift towards biodiversity?

To be honest we don’t need to change the focus. Climate change is important and significant to be aware of. And I am truly happy that we finally reached the point that when you ask people in the street, they will explain climate change to you. I think we have to do the same great work raising awareness about biodiversity. Because if you look at the solution for stopping climate change and global warming, one third of it is in having a healthy ecosystem of biodiversity – healthy oceans, seas, land, forest - everything around us is biodiversity. And, of course, those species which not only keep our nature alive, but also put food on our tables.

The European Union has clearly put the Green Deal on top on its agenda. What is the 'blue' element of the bigger Green Deal Picture?

That is correct. Part of my work is to make the Green deal blue. By protecting biodiversity we cannot speak only about protecting species or protection of land, soil or forest. We also have to address oceans. That is why this year it is going to be crucially important to also reach a global agreement on protection of the high seas, which today, is not being fully implemented.

EU budget talks or Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) talks are on amid pressure for more climate action. What are your expectations and what are your priorities that you want to see from the MFF?

First of all, probably, the Commission would like to see agreement. We cannot afford delay and that would be, probably, the worst outcome.

Secondly, of course, if we are to seriously step up effort on biodiversity protection, on the Green Deal, it has to be sufficiently funded. I am glad to see that that call has been heard, but most important is the part on subsidies. Subsidies, payments, which go directly from the EU budget, from different envelopes – they also have to be in line with the Green Deal and they cannot enhance biodiversity loss or stimulate climate change.

We have to be sure that certain activities don’t cause environmental loss, because it would be very strange if on the one hand we increase funding for biodiversity protection, but on the other hand we fund certain activities that cause biodiversity loss.

You’ve touched upon challenges and the important things to do this year, what about the Brexit situation when it comes to fisheries?

Negotiations just started and we are ready to talk. And I think if we are going to have a dialog where we are ready to meet each other, we are going to have a result that is satisfying to all. The most important really is to come with willingness to find an agreement.

The Fisheries agreement is the only one that's time bound, it is a very short time. Let’s begin. We are ready, I know the British side as well. We will work tirelessly to find the best agreement.

As a former Minister for the Economy and Innovation in Lithuania, how does this experience influence your job now as EU Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries?

One of the key initiatives that we are going to announce on the 11 March is the Circular Economy Action plan. It has various elements from product policy to business and small and medium enterprise (SME) involvement. Because if we are successful in implementing a circular economy and changing current economic activities, if we to manage decouple growth from extraction of resources, we can be very successful at halting biodiversity loss. Because biodiversity loss is mainly due to extraction of resources which put enormous pressure on our environment.

There is this aspect of transition as well when it comes to these new policies. What is your take on that?

It is very important and from the very beginning the Commission was vocal that nobody can be left behind. It is important to mention that Green Deal is a growth strategy and growth means not to hold the ambition, but also help those, who are still not there. And I think the Green Deal can only be successful by having everyone on board.

And the final question, you are the youngest commissioner. How does that influence your policies?

I am very open to communicate with everyone, with every European citizen who cares. And I think my role is to raise awareness and to deliver.