Speech by President von der Leyen at the EU Green Week 2021 conference

Good afternoon to you all!

I am so pleased to kick off this new EU Green Week. It is wonderful to know that there are hundreds of partner events taking place across Europe, big and small, north and south, east and west.

From twinned upcycling workshops in France and Germany, to online eco quizzes for high school students in Slovakia. Citizens can go to the municipal gardens in Logroño in Spain to learn about composting. Or they can find out how to reduce plastic waste on the shores of the Black Sea in Constanța, Romania.

If we are to save our planet, we need these kinds of small individual actions. We need them alongside the structural changes we are making through the European Green Deal.

In the past year, we have all been confined by a pandemic. We have spent more time inside than we wished. And as a result, we have discovered a new-found appreciation for being outside, in nature. In the fields, farms and forests that cover our countryside. Or the parks, playgrounds and plazas that are spread across our towns and cities. I believe that this appreciation for nature also comes with a greater awareness of its vulnerability.

It is painfully clear that human activity has negative impacts on other forms of life. Pollution is threatening the survival of more than 1 million plant and animal species – on land and at sea. It is one of the five leading causes of biodiversity loss. We cannot be negligent any longer. Thus, we are determined to tackle this challenge through our European Green Deal.

Another truth that we are increasingly aware of is that the health of the planet is closely linked with human health. The loss of biodiversity and the intrusion of humans into the habitat of wildlife is the breeding-ground for pandemics. When we pollute the planet, we pollute our own bodies and minds. One in 8 deaths in Europe is caused by pollution. Several cancers, and heart and respiratory diseases, are linked to pollution.

On top comes another issue. The most vulnerable in society are suffering the harshest impacts. These threats affect our children – whose fragile bodies can suffer long-term harm. They threaten the elderly and those with particular medical conditions. And they disproportionately impact the most deprived members of society: Those who are living in poorer socio-economic conditions. So the fight against pollution is also a fight for fairness and equality.

It is for all of them, and for mother earth, that I presented my Zero Pollution Ambition for Europe. I did this right after being nominated as Commission President in 2019. And I am proud of all the work we did. Last month the Commission adopted our Zero Pollution Action Plan. We are setting new 2030 targets to tackle pollution in all its forms. To reduce it to a level where it no longer harms human health or the environment

Let me give you some examples: We will tackle air pollution. We will more closely align our air quality standards with the latest WHO recommendations. We will tackle water pollution by reviewing our water quality standards. By 2030 we expect to reduce the plastic waste in our oceans by half and microplastics by 30%. We will tackle soil pollution, protecting and restoring the life-giving ground beneath our feet. With our European Green Deal, the European Union walks its talk. And it takes the lead on the global stage.

It’s a long way ahead of us. In the EU, we already have strong laws in place to reduce pollution. We will closely monitor their implementation by Member States. And we will enforce our legislation more strictly when needed. But most importantly: Our European Union is showing that it means business. We are tackling pollution from A to Z in Europe, from production to waste.

Our aim is to lead by example. Pollution and climate change know no borders. We will not protect Europeans through action in Europe alone. We must also work with and inspire our international partners. European standards have to become global standards. We have already committed to give protected status to at least 30% of land and sea here in Europe. We now want to broker the same ambition at global level.

I am looking forward to the next UN Biodiversity Summit, in Kunming, China, in October. I want this global gathering to bring us a Paris-style agreement for biodiversity. I want the world to say in Kunming: We have one planet, we all share it and we will all care for it. Together we will reduce air, water and soil pollution – everywhere.

We need a race to zero in greenhouse gas emissions. And a race to zero in pollution as well. To all of you watching, listening and taking part in EU Green Week events: You have a crucial role to play! Let’s deliver on Europe’s Zero Pollution Ambition! As you organise your events, as you have conversations with friends, family and colleagues.

Keep in mind this quote by Margaret Mead:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Let’s change the world together and make it a world of zero pollution.


Thank you!