UN names veteran EU official Astrid Schomaker as new biodiversity chief | Biodiversity

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The next UN biodiversity chief will be Astrid Schomaker, an EU civil servant who will be entrusted with helping the world confront the ongoing catastrophic loss of nature.

Schomaker has been a career official with the EU commission for 30 years. A surprise appointment, she will be tasked with corralling governments to make good on their commitments to protect life on Earth – something they have not done in more than 30 years since the UN biodiversity convention was created.

The German official is expected to take charge of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) this year, ahead of the Cop16 summit in Cali, Colombia, where governments will gather for the first time since setting this decade’s biodiversity targets.

In December 2022, every state apart from the US and Vatican reached a deal at the Cop15 summit in Montreal to halt the destruction of the Earth’s ecosystems, agreeing on 23 targets including protecting 30% of Earth for nature, phasing out or reforming $500bn (£400bn) of environmentally harmful subsidies, and restoring 30% of the planet’s degraded ecosystems.

But the measures have faced a strong backlash, despite scientific warnings that the biodiversity crisis could drive a million species to extinction and endanger human civilisations. This year, for example, the EU dropped plans to halve the use of pesticides after farmers across Europe protested against new EU proposals on emissions, use of chemicals and nutrient runoff.

Schomaker’s appointment was announced by the UN secretary general, António Guterres, on Tuesday after an extensive interview process. She replaces the former UN biodiversity chief Elizabeth Maruma Mrema more than a year after Mrema left the post, which has been filled by the acting chief, David Cooper.

Guterres praised Schomaker, who has also led the European Commission’s divisions for marine and freshwater issues, for her experience in international negotiations and knowledge of global environmental issues.

Ariel Brunner, director of BirdLife Europe, said Schomaker would need to help convince the rest of the world that the EU remained credible on international issues.

“I congratulate Astrid for the appointment and wish her luck in convincing national governments that biodiversity is a matter of national survival. The EU has always been the driving force behind the CBD, but at the moment it is defaulting on most of its commitments,” he said.

“Astrid will need to convince the rest of the world that the EU is still a credible partner – and convince the EU to actually be one,” he said.