Mansholt Lecture 2023: nature-based perspective for Europe well-received

Published on
September 25, 2023

‘This is a story of hope, of working with nature.’ The annual Mansholt Lecture was held in Brussels on Wednesday, 20 September. Tim van Hattum delivered the lecture, presenting a nature-based perspective on the future of Europe. Van Hatum and Public Affairs Consultant Rens Koele reflect on a very successful event.

The NL2120 project provided Van Hattum with inspiration for his lecture. In this project, Wageningen researchers paint a picture of a possible future for the Netherlands: maps detailing what the country might look like one hundred years from now if nature-based solutions were to be deployed. The demand for a European version of the project rose quickly, upon which Van Hattum, his team, and fifty students with varying nationalities wrote the report ‘Imagining a nature-based future for Europe in 2120’ on a nature-based future for Europe in 2120.

Natural Europe

Van Hattum presented this report in Brussels, including the drafts detailing what Europe could look like in 2120. ‘The report is not meant to be a blueprint, but rather as a source of inspiration. And as a call to action based on a vision for a nature-based Europe. We cannot do this alone in Wageningen; it must be addressed at a European level with scientists, policy-makers, civilians, businesses, NGOs and, particularly, the younger generation. That makes a lecture such as this one so important.’

There is ample enthusiasm for this approach. People want an action perspective.
Tim van Hattum

The annual Mansholt Lecture aims to call attention to Wageningen’s research and to intensify the link with Brussels. And with success, according to Rens Koele. ‘There were over 150 people in the audience, with high-level delegates from the European Commission and the Ministry of LNV (Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality). Tim van Hattum’s lecture met with very positive reactions because it is a positive and hopeful view of the future that policy-makers can embrace and use.’ Van Hattum also noticed that his story struck a nerve in the audience: ‘There is ample enthusiasm for this approach. People want an action perspective.’

After the lecture, Diederik Samsom, the Euro Commissioner for the Climate’s Head of Cabinet, reflected on it. Samsom praised the inspiring address while also pointing out that the ‘birds and the bees’ are not placed sufficiently high on the agenda. Biodiversity and nature are not yet a priority for many politicians seeking re-election. A critical petition, says Koele: ‘It is important to realise that these topics must be relevant for politicians. Only thus can science have an impact on policy.’

Fortunately, a large group of young people is calling for action. Involving them is crucial.
Tim van Hattum

Van Hattum and Koele were pleased to see many youngsters involved in the lecture. Many young people were in the audience, including the Wageningen students who had contributed to the report. Nafsika Makri Makridou, who recently graduated from WUR and is currently employed as a junior designer, held an emotional personal address on what nature means to her. Van Hattum: ‘Fortunately, a large group of young people is calling for action. Involving them is crucial.’


WUR’s president of the Executive Board, Sjoukje Heimovaara, opened and wrapped up the afternoon. She pointed out that Sicco Mansholt, after whom the lecture is named, embraced the Club of Rome’s report towards the end of his career, adding that the issues Mansholt raised in the seventies still exist today.

Tim van Hattum also feels that it is time to act. ‘The most important lesson we take home from Wednesday is that there is a real need for a hopeful long-term perspective for the future. But that future starts today. We must not despair over climate change but persevere. Time is of the essence, but it is not too late yet, which is why the time to act is now.’