Negotiators from the European Parliament, EU countries and the European Commission reached a provisional agreement on a new law to reverse the drastic decline of Europe's nature and restore ecosystems [Alain Rolland / European Union 2023 - Source : EP]
EU negotiators agree historic law to restore Europe’s nature

It is the first European law that goes beyond nature protection to actively restore ecosystems, in a bid to reverse the drastic decline of many European habitats.

“We are faced with an increasingly dramatic reality: The EU’s nature and biodiversity are in danger and need to be protected,” said Teresa Ribera, Spain’s ecological transition minister, who represented the 27 EU countries in the talks.

The law is a key pillar of the EU’s Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 and will help the EU achieve an international goal to restore 30% of land and seas by 2030.

“The world’s first law on nature restoration is as good as finalised,” said Jutta Paulus, who negotiated for the Greens in the European Parliament. Thanks to the agreement, the EU will go to the COP28 international climate conference with “an important building block for mitigating the climate crisis and adapting to climate change,” she added.

“The compromise on the Nature Restoration Law is a good basis for finally counteracting the extinction of species in Europe,” Paulus said.

Preventing deterioration in restored areas

Within two years of the law coming into force, EU countries will need to draw up national restoration plans outlining measures to restore degraded ecosystems up to June 2032. They will then need to monitor and report their progress.

EU countries will also be required to prevent significant deterioration in areas subject to restoration measures, something known as the ‘non-deterioration principle’.

There are several exemptions to this principle though, including for renewable energy projects, military infrastructure, or if the deterioration was caused by the climate crisis.

However, the principle was weakened from the original text, with negotiators making it efforts-based rather than outcome-based, meaning EU countries will not have to compensate if the goal is not achieved.

“If you have an outcome-based approach and you do not reach the goals, then you have to apply additional measures […] whereas now you say okay, I tried, but unfortunately, it didn’t turn out the way I wanted to,” Paulus explained.

Ecosystem-specific measures

The law outlines measures and objectives for specific ecosystems – including forests, farmland, urban ecosystems and freshwater and marine ecosystems – as well as for improving pollinator diversity.

In forests for instance, EU countries will be required to roll out measures that enhance biodiversity and increase positive trends, including for bird populations and the quantity of deadwood.

Meanwhile, in urban areas, EU countries should ensure no net loss of green space and canopy cover by 2030, unless there is already 45% green space.

The agreement also obliges EU countries to identify and remove man-made barriers to achieve at least 25,000 km of free-flowing rivers by 2030.

Measures for agricultural ecosystems were the most controversial and saw major pushback from the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP), the largest political group in Parliament.

In the end, the measures there were significantly altered. Changes include removing the requirement to renature 10% of farmland and adding an emergency brake to freeze farmland targets in case they impact food security or production, the EPP said.

Concessions were also made around rewetting peatlands. The text sets targets to restore 30% of drained peatlands under agricultural use by 2030, 40% by 2040 and 50% by 2050, but heavily impacted countries can apply a lower percentage and there will be no direct obligation for farmers.

EPP negotiator Christine Schneider (CDU, Germany) welcomed the deal and “the fact that the final text on this law has little to do with the original proposal from the Commission”.

Conservation group WWF, for its part, welcomed plans to increase nature on farmland and peatland restoration in the law but pointed to “significant concessions”, like the emergency brake.

“While we are pleased to see that all ecosystems originally covered by the law are still included in the agreement, the articles have been watered down compared to the original Commission proposal and the Council’s position,” the NGO stated.

Campaigners at ClientEarth, meanwhile, said the “numerous exemptions and lack of legal safeguards” set a frightening precedent for EU lawmaking rather than cementing the EU at the forefront of biodiversity conversation.

“We finally have a much-needed law that, in theory, would force the EU to take concrete action to restore its ailing nature,” said Ionnis Agapakis from ClientEarth. “However, negotiators have hollowed out the law to the point that it risks being toothless in practice and prone to abuse,” he added.

The agreed law still needs to be officially signed off by the European Parliament and the 27 EU countries and it remains to be seen whether enough of the EPP backs the final agreement to make it law.


Artículo completo disponible en