Mansholt lecture 2023: A natural future for Europe in 2120

Published on
September 1, 2023

In the future Europe, humans will collaborate with nature to combat the effects of climate change and allow biodiversity to flourish. That is the core message of this year’s Mansholt lecture. But how may such a collaboration be shaped? Ir. Tim van Hattum, his team, and fifty students joined forces to write a report that lays the groundwork for a collective perspective on the future of Europe.

Wageningen University & Research (WUR) presents its views on European issues regarding nutrition, agriculture and sustainable means of subsistence in an annual Mansholt lecture. This year, ir. Tim van Hattum delivers a lecture on the successful NL2120 project, which won the WUR Impact Award. In the project, an interdisciplinary team presented its perspective on the Netherlands one hundred years from now. An encouraging view in which nature and society work together to prevent further consequences of climate change and to allow biodiversity to flourish.

‘Nature does not stick to national borders’, Van Hattum underscores. ‘During our tour to different Dutch municipalities, ministers and media, the same question was asked repeatedly: “Shouldn’t we be doing this on a European level?”. This lecture presents a preliminary draft for Europe in 2120. Europe in one hundred, or rather, in 97 years: nature-based and nature-positive.’

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Diederik Samsom reflects on the lecture

Van Hattum will deliver the Mansholt lecture during a gathering in Brussels. After the lecture, Diederik Samsom will take the stage. As head of cabinet of the European Commision for Climate Action Policy, he will reflect on the lecture and share insights on how the hopeful vision of EU2120 can be made a reality.

Five guiding principles

Europe faces two significant challenges: climate change and biodiversity loss. The planet is heating up. Heat waves, floods, wildfires, and droughts occur with increasing frequency. Biodiversity is declining rapidly. ‘And all this, while scientists stress the value of biodiversity for nature’s strength and resilience’, Van Hattum states. ‘These two crises are linked.’

Policymakers are aware of this fact, and the European Green Deal is an ambitious step towards a climate-neutral future in which nature is conserved and strengthened. ‘EU2120 represents a long-term perspective for that green future. It is a call for the entire European community, from policymakers to citizens, to make that future a reality.’

Nature-based solutions are placed centre stage in this call: solutions in collaboration with nature. ‘We formulated five guiding principles in order to steer possible solutions in the right direction. The first principle, for example, states that healthy water and soil systems must be the foundation of Europe’s future. This is where properly functioning ecosystems, in which biodiversity can flourish, start. ’The second principle calls for adaptive and resilient solutions. ‘Adapt to changing circumstances, and do not act against nature but rather collaborate with it to protect humans and nature from the impacts of climate change.’

Collaboration with students

‘This report is a petition, not a blueprint’, Van Hattum stresses. ‘To arrive at a real perspective for Europe, we need the imagination of the entire European society. ‘Van Hattum and his team provide an excellent example in the report by including students in the project. ‘We worked with a diverse group of students from different backgrounds, domains and nationalities within design studios. The students were asked to design nature-based solutions for specific areas and were challenged to develop a long-term perspective for five European eco-regions.’

The report contains the fruits of this collaboration. How does the future generation envision Europe in 2120? In 2120, the EU is characterised by five major themes: renewable energy for everyone, green cities that can be reached by high-velocity trains, small nature reserves make way for nature connected across the continent, agricultural endeavours contribute to biodiversity and nature recovery, and healthy water systems lead to healthy soil.

‘We stress that all these themes are interconnected. That is the key to a nature-based approach, and that is also why we value a future perspective so much. What do we want Europe to look like in all of these aspects? We need the power of our imagination to develop a positive ideal vision for the future. That will provide the present and future generations with the hope needed to address the major challenges posed by climate change and biodiversity loss.’

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