The environmental issue is now on the agenda of the global public debate: from time to time more and more young people want to work hard to help improve the situation. The most determined are able to make their personal vocation a profession, as in the case of Barbara Battioni Romanelli, Junior policy officer at the Brussels office of the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature). Let's find out together what she is dealing with and why the topic has become so relevant!
Reflecting in general terms on the relationship between man and the environment, it can be said that the human being is immersed in a social and environmental context that structures his way of being. In recent years, in fact, we are witnessing events that put in crisis the environment that surrounds us and from where we take the resources necessary for our livelihood. For this reason, the ecological theme has a deep connection with the social theme. Melting glaciers, extinct animal species and large cities surrounded by clouds of smog have brought the environmental issue back to the centre of world attention. The boys are on strike on the day that has been symbolically renamed "Friday for future" and the Green Parties of half of Europe have seen their support rise rapidly. Nevertheless, it is important to stay on the ground and not be guided by sentimentality that can prevent us from thinking critically. On this occasion, we are lucky to be able to speak with Barbara Battioni Romanelli, who has kindly undergone an interview to open our eyes to environmental dynamics.
To start, could you please talk about IUCN? What’s its role, what are your goals? And what is the “red list” that distinguishes you?
The IUCN (the International Union for Conservation of Nature) was founded in 1948 and today it is an observer at the United Nations. It is more than a non-governmental organization; it is a real membership union, that’s made up both by governments and civil society organizations, and this is one of its main features. Representatives of indigenous populations, academic and scientific institutions are also present within the IUCN. Our daily stimulus is the will to share knowledge and find concrete solutions, in order to face real problems linked to economic development and environmental conservation. The “red list” has become famous over the years; it is a database full of information about the conservation stats of biological species, and it is the most important of the world.
Now we can ask for more details. Given that the IUCN has many offices all around the world, can you explain what’s your job in Brussels and how the joint work with the EU institutions is structured?
I work as a junior policy officer. I started as an intern in 2018 but, when I first began, I quickly knew that it was the right place. Once my six-month period ended, I waited for the call for other positions, and I applied immediately. Currently, I’m responsible for several kinds of policies, both in the marine and agricultural fields, and biodiversity. Also, I deal with internal and external communication, the level of which must be excellent, given the high number of entities we have to cooperate with.
Naturally, the office of Brussels is a strategic element: we work closely together with the EU Commission (especially with the DG AGRI and the Environment Committee) and the European Parliament, but also with every stakeholder involved in environmental issues.
The most important aspect is pluralism, that means trying to listen every point of view and finding the right way to communicate.
The new EU Commission seems to want to focus on the environmental issue. During her inauguration speech, Ursula Von Der Leyen declared her will to introduce a European legislation on climate, in order to zero the CO2 emissions by 2050, and to impose a “carbon border tax”. How do you feel about the new Commission? Is it possible to take stock of what has been made by the Commission led by Junker? Could they have done more?
Everybody has his own opinion, therefore, every judgement I’m going to make is personal. I think that the Junker Commission have done a good work, and the single use plastic directive (aimed at reducing plastic waste) has marked a turning point, as it influenced public opinion. I can say that more could have been done in the pre-Junker period, but the former Prime Minister of Luxembourg tried to make up for it. I have raised many expectations for Von Der Leyen, and I hope she may continue along the path outlined by her predecessor but, as her presidency has just begun, I don’t want to say too much. Of course it is a good time to act, given that public opinion pays close attention to environmental issues, and the objectives pursued by the Commission are certainly good.
When we talk about environment, we cannot fail to mention Greta Thunberg, and the Friday for future. In her speech to the United Nations, the Swedish girl reproached the audience for thinking only about money, but economy is not a small matter. Is it possible to coordinate economic development and environmental protection?
I have to express personal judgments also on this matter. We could say that it is the main challenge, because it is possible, but complicated. Today I have taken part in the round-table talks organized by the Commission, during which we have discussed about the CAP, the Common Agricultural Policy, with the stakeholders. As the event involved many subjects with different instances, such as farmers, environmentalists and scientists, it was necessary to reach a compromise. You can only imagine how difficult it is to find a solution, when so many stances oppose each other.
But all this mustn’t discourage us, but instead spur us to do something more. Combining environmental protection and economic development requires a huge effort to open our minds. Even citizens are required to be open as well: we should be more willing to adopt a new lifestyle that may take away some benefits, but it in the short term, but it will surely give us back everything, in the longer run. Handling the environmental problem requires the cooperation of all of us, without exceptions.
Author of the interview: Leonardo Cherici