The Nature Restoration Law would require countries to establish recovery measures for all degraded ecosystems by 2050.Hristo Rusev/Getty Images
Scientists urge European Parliament to vote for nature restoration law
Update, 12 July, 8:12 am: The Nature Restoration Law lives on. Today, the European Parliament waved the proposal through with 336 votes in favor, 300 against and 13 abstentions. The European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council of the EU will now work together on the final version of the rules that will be implemented.

A law to restore nature across Europe faces a crunch vote in the European Parliament this week, after months of tense debate that has pushed scientists into the political arena.

The Nature Restoration Law would set legally binding targets to restore degraded ecosystems throughout the continent. Some agricultural groups and politicians strongly oppose it, claiming the law is impractical and threatens workers’ livelihoods. But many scientists have rallied in support of the law and are urging policymakers to approve it in Wednesday’s vote, where its fate is uncertain.

“To me, it’s not so much about industry versus environment, but rather about short-term versus long-term [vision],” says Joachim Claudet, a marine scientist at CNRS, the French national research agency. “Nature doesn’t work on the same timeline as electoral mandates.”

Proposed by the European Commission in June 2022, the Nature Restoration Law would require countries to establish recovery measures for 20% of the European Union’s land and sea areas by 2030, and all ecosystems in need of restoration by 2050. (The Commission says more than 80% of habitats are in “bad or poor” conservation status, and that peatlands, grasslands, and dunes are worst affected.) It also includes targets for specific habitats and species—such as reversing the decline of pollinating insects by 2030 and restoring seagrass beds and other marine habitats.

The draft law has received broad support from green, left-of-center politicians and environmental organizations such as WWF and BirdLife. Many businesses, including Nestlé and Unilever, have also voiced their support, arguing that “the commercial opportunities of a nature-positive economy are immense.”

But others have claimed that the proposed measures will harm industries already struggling from the effects of a global pandemic and an energy crisis. Copa-Cogeca and Europêche, two organizations that represent the farming and fisheries sectors, call the Nature Restoration Law “an ill-thought-out, unrealistic, and unimplementable legislation that endangers farmers’ and fishers livelihoods and food production in the EU.”

The law has also faced intense criticism inside Parliament: Two committees in charge of fisheries and agriculture have rejected the Commission’s proposal, whereas the environment committee narrowly decided against outright rejection. The European People’s Party (EPP)—the conservative political group that holds the largest number of seats in Parliament—has repeatedly slammed the law as impractical, burdensome, and a threat to food production. (The EPP didn’t respond to ScienceInsider’s requests for comment, but in a 7 July statement, Christine Schneider, the German member of Parliament who represents the group in negotiations on the law, said: “No other outcome other than a rejection of the law is acceptable. We want to protect nature, but this law is badly drafted and ill-conceived.”) 

Unhappy with what they see as misleading claims about the proposal, scientists have also entered the fray. About 6000 researchers signed an open letter, now published as a preprint article, that lays out scientific evidence to counter eight of the critics’ arguments—such as claims that the regulations would threaten jobs, reduce agricultural yields, or harm fisheries.

“It requires a lot of courage to go against policymakers. I don’t know any conservation biologist who is doing it out of joy or fun,” says Guy Pe’er, the letter’s first author and a conservation biologist at the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research and Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research. “But if they step into my expertise, make unsubstantiated claims, and spread misinformation, I have the responsibility and the mandate to respond.”

Several heads of natural history museums have also come out in favor of the law, and hundreds of researchers, including Claudet, signed another declaration of support launched by ocean conservationist Enric Sala, which argues that the benefits of nature restoration far exceed its costs.

“To help ecosystems recover, we need to take into account scientific evidence,” says marine biologist Emma Cebrian, from the Blanes Center for Advanced Studies, who signed Sala’s statement. “If [policymakers] need us to explain, they can ask us. We’ll go where we’re needed so that decisions aren’t based on fear.”

The Nature Restoration Law is now hanging by a thread. If parliamentarians reject it, the European Commission will have to go back to the drawing board. And even if Parliament doesn’t kill the law, it still has a way to go before being implemented. On 20 June, the Council of the EU, which represents all 27 member states and must also sign off on EU legislation, agreed on a joint position that will serve as a basis for negotiations with Parliament and the Commission. Among other changes, the council wants the final version of the rules to give member states more flexibility in how they implement the law, and to soften some of the restoration targets.

Scientists will be watching anxiously. Claudet says he hopes Europe enshrines into law some of the global biodiversity targets agreed at the United Nations in December 2022. “We need to zoom out from the details,” Pe’er says. “We do not claim the policy proposal is perfect, but rejecting it is an irresponsible decision.”


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