Parliament adopts the nature restoration law amid solid opposition

ENVI Committee Press @EP_Environment

More than 80% of habitats in Europe suffer from poor conditions. On 22 June 2022, the European Commission (EC) proposed a nature restoration law to aid the long-term recovery of damaged nature across the EU’s land and sea territories. This law aims to achieve EU climate and biodiversity objectives while meeting the EU’s international commitments, particularly the UN Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity framework. 

The EC estimates that the new law has significant economic benefits. Every euro invested in restoration would yield at least 8 euros in benefits. This law responds to the expectations of European citizens concerning the protection and restoration of biodiversity, landscape, and oceans, as expressed in proposals 2(1), 2(3), 2(4), and 2(5) of the conclusions of the Conference on the Future of Europe.

The new law targets restoring a minimum of 20% of the EU’s land and sea areas by 2030 and all ecosystems in need of restoration by 2050. This law, agreed upon by member states, will restore degraded ecosystems across all member states, help achieve the EU’s climate and biodiversity objectives, and enhance food security. 

The member states must restore at least 30% of habitats covered by the new law, from forests, grasslands, and wetlands to rivers, lakes, and coral beds, from poor to good condition by 2030, increasing to 60% by 2040 and 90% by 2050. Member countries should prioritise Natura 2000 areas until 2030, aligning with Parliament’s position. Once an area is in good condition, member states must ensure it does not significantly deteriorate. Member states must also adopt national restoration plans that detail how they intend to achieve these objectives.

Agriculture ecosystems

The EU countries must progress in two of three indicators to improve biodiversity in agricultural ecosystems. These indicators are the grassland butterfly index, the share of agricultural land with high-diversity landscape features, and the stock of organic carbon in cropland mineral soil. Additionally, the members must take measures to increase the standard farmland bird index, as birds are good indicators of the overall state of biodiversity.

Restoring drained peatlands is one of the most cost-effective ways to reduce emissions in the agricultural sector. By 2030, EU countries must restore at least 30% of drained peatlands (at least a quarter of which should be rewetted), 40% by 2040, and 50% by 2050 (with at least one-third being rewetted). However, rewetting will remain voluntary for farmers and private landowners. In case of exceptional circumstances severely reducing the land needed for sufficient food production for EU consumption, the law provides an emergency brake to suspend targets for agricultural ecosystems.

In other ecosystems 

The law demands a positive trend in several indicators in forest ecosystems and the planting of an additional three billion trees. Furthermore, member states must restore at least 25,000 km of rivers into free-flowing rivers. They must also ensure no net loss in the total national area of urban green space and urban tree canopy cover.

The deal agreed with member states was adopted with 329 votes in favour, 275 against, and 24 abstentions. It now needs to be adopted by the Council, published in the EU Official Journal and will enter into force 20 days later.

Socialists, Liberals, Greens and the Left approve.

The European Parliament was divided over the new law, which sparked a debate among different political groups. However, progressive political forces came together to approve the first-ever Nature Restoration Law. The S&Ds Group demonstrated the ability to foster unity among members from different party affiliations and balance ambitious goals and practical feasibility. 

“Today is an important day for Europe as we move from protecting and conserving nature to restoring it. The new law will also help us to fulfil many of our international environmental commitments. The regulation will restore degraded ecosystems while respecting the agricultural sector by giving flexibility to the member states. I would like to thank scientists for providing the scientific evidence and fighting climate denial, and young people for reminding us that there is no planet B, nor plan B,” César Luena, (S&D, ES) European Parliament’s chief negotiator on the Nature Restoration Law, said.

“The unity of the Socialists and Democrats has been key to approve this law. Our commitment to nature has guaranteed that Europe has its first Nature Restoration Law in history.”

The Renew Europe Group welcomed the endorsement of the agreement.

“With the adoption of this specific bill aimed at restoring damaged nature in Europe and, unique in its kind worldwide, a solid legal basis has now been created that makes it possible to restore damaged nature, reverse biodiversity loss on a large scale and therefore tackle the harmful impact of climate disruption on society, economy and businesses,” highlights a press release.

MEP María Soraya Rodríguez Ramos (Ciudadanos, Spain), Renew Europe shadow rapporteur, said: “This is a historical moment. For the first time, Member States will draft National Plans indicating how they will restore their degraded ecosystems. Restoring Europe’s habitats and species is not only important for the value of nature itself, but also for improving human health and well-being and reducing the impact of climate change. We owe it to the thousands of scientists, industry, renewable energy companies, cities, and all of civil society who have been involved in its adoption. Today, we have adopted a law that stands for the health of our ecosystems, our citizens, and our economy.”

The Greens/EFA Group noted that the law is one of the central laws of Commission President Ursula von der Leyen‘s Green Deal. 

“This law is about saving the basis for our survival, our nature. Only by restoring destroyed ecosystems can we stop the extinction of species and the EU climate targets achieved. The loss of biodiversity threatens farmers. Without intact ecosystems, there is no clean drinking water, no clean air and no fertile soil. And only healthy ecosystems can mitigate the effects of climate change such as droughts, fires and floods,” Jutta Paulus MEP, Greens/EFA shadow rapporteur in the Environment Committee, commented.

“The vote is a success for the preservation of biodiversity and for climate protection in the EU, for farmers and for food safety. It is a victory for the many environmental organisations and businesses that have been fighting for the Nature Restoration Law for months,” Bas Eickhout, Greens/EFA MEP and Vice-president of the Environmental Committee, commented. 

“Now, it is important that we make the Green Deal future-proof for the next legislative period. The EPP must show that they stand behind the Green Deal and the head of the European Commission from their own party and won’t fall for the populist call of the far right,” Eickhout added.

The Left Group also welcomed the results of the vote.

Left MEP and shadow rapporteur Mick Wallace (Independents for change, Ireland) stated: “It is a relief that we have finally gotten this regulation over the line in the Parliament. It’s a good day for nature, for everyone who loves nature and who works with it and who works to try to save it. It is also a good day for farmers.”

“Farmers and landowners should not fear the regulation, but should instead welcome the opportunities it will provide. The regulation is about restoration, not protection, and this is an important distinction. Restoration does not mean taking land out of production. The regulation creates legal obligations for member states, but not for farmers. I am disappointed with the lower level of ambition and of many separate targets and timelines. This watering down means the regulation is unlikely to be enough to meet the scale of the challenge we face as we approach the sixth mass extinction,” he added.

Conservatives and the far-right in opposition

Both Conservatives of the EPP and the far-right ECR voted against the law.

The EPP Group decided to vote against the Nature Restoration Law.

“The EPP Group continues to have serious concerns about the Nature Restoration Law. We do not want new and more forms of bureaucracy and reporting obligations for farmers. Let farmers farm,” said MEP Siegfried Mureșan MEP, Vice-Chair of the EPP Group in charge of budget and structural policies.

“There are fears that many Member States will use the law to introduce bureaucracy and far-reaching monitoring and reporting obligations for farmers and foresters while claiming that the EU is forcing them to do so. As a result, the affected farmers and foresters would once again look to Brussels with resentment, when the problem is homemade and lies with the respective national governments,” Mureșan continued.

“We welcome the fact that the revised legal text bears little resemblance to the original proposal from the Commission. The Commission’s proposal was ideologically driven, practically unfeasible and a disaster for farmers, forest owners, fishermen and local authorities. It threatened to slow down the roll-out of key infrastructure and renewable energy. The revised text is now better. But it is still better to start from scratch and put farmers’ interests first,” concluded Mureșan.

The ECR Group regretted the European Parliament’s adoption of the law. For the ECR, the text, “originally introduced by then EU Commissioner Frans Timmermans, is too intrusive in rural areas”.

ECR MEP Bert-Jan Ruissen (Staatkundig Gereformeerde Partij, Netherlands) supported a motion to reject the legislation, but there was no majority in favour. 

“We have seen a very unfortunate decision. It will block our rural areas. The consequences will be enormous. Nature conservation will become more important than food security, housing needs or road safety, even outside Natura 2000 sites. Communities and provinces will have little choice. From now on, ecologists will determine the organisation of our countryside,” he said.

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