The world must create a global agreement to protect biodiversity on the same scale as the Paris climate accord, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Tuesday.
Addressing the World Economic Forum by video link, Ms von der Leyen said the EU would lobby for such a deal at the COP 15 UN biodiversity summit in Kunming, China, later this year.
"This will have to be like COP 21 was for climate, because we need a Paris-style agreement for biodiversity," she said.
The EU chief said more than half of global gross domestic product is dependent on high-functioning biodiversity and ecosystems – in sectors such as such as food and tourism.
She added that three-quarters of the world's surface has already been altered by climate change.
"If we don't urgently act to protect our nature, the next pandemic will be around the corner," she said, citing an anecdote that suggested deforestation in Africa had displaced bats and contributed to an Ebola virus outbreak.
The loss of these natural habitats is a major driver of climate change, she told the summit, and pledged the EU will meet targets that protect at least 30 per cent of the continent’s land and sea.
“Less wilderness and wildlife, increasing temperature and extreme weather – all these developments are different sides of the same coin. We don't just lose green space or natural habitat, we lose a key ally in our fight against climate change.”
"Europe will soon present a legal framework for the restoration of healthy ecosystems. It is why we will protect at least 30 per cent of land and sea here in Europe. We are ready to broker the same ambition at global level, at the next UN biodiversity summit.”
Ms Von der Leyen also welcomed US President Joe Biden's decision to return to the Paris Climate Agreement after it was abandoned by former president Donald Trump.
The pact, which came into force in 2016, was signed by over 190 signatories in order to limit global warming.
She said that 37 per cent of a €750 billion ($911bn) European recovery plan would be used to fund the continent’s European Green Deal plan that was outlined at Davos last year.
The money would be used in projects such as renovating more than 40 million homes to make them more environmentally friendly, decarbonisation of public transport and funding for major clean energy infrastructure – such as hydrogen valleys, she said.
However, she stressed that public funding would not be enough and that companies that promote sustainable corporate governance would have a “big advantage” in the future.
“We all benefit from nature. And we all benefit from the protection it gives us. So I think we all have to play our role in this game”, she said.