What the new EU nature restoration law includes and why it has taken so long to be approved

The European Green Deal is a package of political initiatives aimed at putting the European Union on a path of ecological transition with the ultimate goal of achieving climate neutrality by 2050. In particular, nature restoration legislation is essential to achieve the goals of the European Biodiversity Strategy for 2030.

comes and goes

Approval was made possible by a last-minute change in Austria’s position, which allowed a slight majority of the 20 countries representing 66% of the EU’s population to pass (the qualified majority in the Council is 65%). Countries such as Italy, Sweden and Finland opposed it from the start, and Hungary and Poland did so just before the vote.

Previously, the law was presented on June 22, 2022 and approved by the European Commission on July 12, 2023. In the European Parliament, the regulation faced significant opposition from the European People’s Party, which expressed concerns about the impact on the agricultural sector, although it was eventually approved on February 27 this year with 329 votes in favour and 275 against.

The protests were fueled by the war between Ukraine and Russia, which increased the prices of fuel, fertilizers and agricultural raw materials, among others. Finland opposed this because of the impact on the forestry industry sector.

The initial proposal was more ambitious than the one eventually adopted. The agriculture sector initiated an “emergency brake” to suspend objectives affecting agriculture due to “exceptional circumstances” that threaten food security. The sector has also forced the relaxation of agri-environmental measures (e.g. fallowing) and the withdrawal of the EU’s Sustainable Use of Pesticides Regulation, which aims to halve pesticide use by 2030.

Key points of the law

The main objective of the Nature Restoration Act is to recover degraded ecosystems in the EU, especially those with the greatest potential to capture and store carbon, such as forests, wetlands, mountain meadows and estuaries. This world-leading regulation obliges Member States to implement ecological restoration measures that, overall and by 2030, cover at least 20% of the EU’s land and marine areas and, by 2050, all ecosystems requiring restoration.

The law establishes specific objectives, which must be achieved within set time frames, for the restoration of natural functions of protected habitats and protected species, marine habitats, urban ecosystems, the connectivity of rivers and their floodplains, pollinators, agricultural ecosystems and forest ecosystems (Articles 4 to 10, respectively).

The Society for Ecological Restoration webinar provides detailed information on these goals and their implications.

Countries will have considerable flexibility to develop national recovery plans tailored to each country’s circumstances and priorities. In Spain, a panel of experts prepared the National Strategy for Green Infrastructure and Ecological Connectivity and Restoration, published in 2021, which will form the basis for subsequent work by other experts carried out between July 2023 and the first months of this year. National Plan.

Significant involvement of scientists

The firm position of the European Academy, expressed through individual scientists and various scientific societies, has been crucial for the approval of the standard.

The European section of the Society for Ecological Restoration published a statement supporting the law in 2022, stressing the urgency of action for ecological restoration in Europe. It also carried out intensive dissemination work to logically refute misconceptions about this law.

In May 2023 more than 6,000 scientists signed a letter of support, and shortly before the final vote, some more committed scientists published an article on the role of the scientific community in the debate on policies related to the Nature Restoration Act and the regulation of agrochemicals in the European Union.

The role played by conservation and environmental organisations has also been important, especially the #RestoreNature Coalition, which collected more than one million signatures from European citizens. Some surveys showed that, even in countries that opposed the law, a majority of citizens wanted it to be approved.

A fundamental law for society

This law has been opposed by some sectors in the rural areas. However, others have understood that this is a huge opportunity for the sector. The full list of benefits of the law would be very long, but these are some of them:

  • Our forests will be better able to adapt to the new climate scenario and reduce the risk of fire.

  • Grasslands, which are turning into scrubland as rural populations have waned, will be reclaimed.

  • The population of pollinators essential for agricultural production would increase.

  • Wetlands will be restored that will filter water contaminated by fertilizers and slurry.

  • Green infrastructure will be created in cities to reduce air pollution, soften the climate and promote people’s health.

According to EU estimates, the monetary value of the benefits of ecological restoration will be 8 to 10 times higher than the cost of the initial investment. The estimated benefits from its application will be 1.86 billion euros.

This regulation is a good example of the fallacy of the “development vs. nature” dilemma. Without nature there is no agriculture, no social welfare, no economy, no society. Major companies have supported the approval of the law; for example, Cemex and Holcim from the mining sector, Iberdrola from the energy sector, Nestlé and Spar from food and H&M from fashion, among many others.

This essential legislation will make a relevant socio-economic contribution, generating employment, investment and self-esteem in a rural environment fighting for its place in the 21st century.

José M. Rey Benayas, Professor of Ecology, University of Alcalá and José Manuel Nicolau Ibarra, Professor of Ecology, University of Zaragoza

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original.

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