After the European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen’s Green Deal was passed in 2019, Von der Leyen described the deal to The Parliament Magazine as “Europe’s man on the moon moment” — the plan was “very ambitious,” yet very carefully planned, and would “reconcile the economy with our planet,” she said.
Now, on June 22, 2023, the Nature Restoration Law, writes Ajit Niranjan, the Guardian’s Europe environment correspondent, represents a “core pillar” of Von der Leyen’s Green Deal. Yet, the proposed NRL is a considerably weakened version of the original law.
Filipe Ataíde Lampe, the Project Manager for “Connecting Europe,” and Jule Zeschky, Project Assistant at the European Policy Centre, co-edited the following commentary on the European Commission’s proposed law:
“First proposed in June 2022 by the European Commission as part of the European Green Deal and its 2030 Biodiversity Strategy, the Nature Restoration Law aims to bring healthy ecosystems back to Europe. It has now been adopted by the European Parliament following a bumpy path.”
The longer we wait to restore nature, the more it will cost! Tomorrow, you need to vote the EU Nature Restoration Law through, for the climate, biodiversity and people! #RestoreNature @Reneweurope#StopExpandingStartRestoring pic.twitter.com/5Z78ReErI8
— Greta Thunberg (@GretaThunberg) June 14, 2023
The EU Nature Restoration Law (NRL) may have been passed by the European Parliament, but the decision was far from unanimous. During the European Parliament’s Plenary vote on June 22, the Nature Restoration law underwent some “very serious weakening.”
In a nutshell, this weakening is twofold — it stems from monetary and conceptual conflicts within the law, which resulted in the law being passed by “razor-thin” margins. These conflicts arose out of a series of amendments brought to the EU Parliament.
The monetary issues revolve around funding: “On funding there were two main amendments, one rejected [and] one adopted.” Amendment 84, which was rejected, required Member States to utilise various funding sources, including Union funds, to finance restoration actions and create a nature restoration fund within the multi-annual financial framework.
Amendment 11, which was adopted, called on the Commission to outline funding availability and needs within 12 months, including compensation measures for landowners, without specifying that a dedicated instrument or nature restoration fund needs to be created. In essence, where rejected Amendment 84 would have guaranteed funding for the restoration of nature plan, adopted Amendment 11 provides a hazier vision of how funding will be secured.
It is for this reason that farmers, forest owners and fisheries take issue with the proposed law. In this sense, the conceptual “weakening” of the NRL revolves around how it will interact with the agricultural community.
With only a “razor-thin 324-312 vote with 12 abstentions” taking the NRL through to the trilogues — informal tripartite meetings on legislative proposals between representatives of the Parliament, the Council and the Commission, which aim to reach an agreement between the Council and the Parliament — the way in which the law will be adopted is still undecided.
So, here are some of the proposed key points of the proposed Nature Restoration law:
- One core element of this plan is a proposal for legally binding EU nature restoration targets to restore degraded ecosystems, in particular those with the greatest potential to capture and store carbon and to prevent and reduce the impact of natural disasters.
- Improve to good condition degraded areas […] with all necessary restoration measures in place on at least 30% of the degraded area of each group of habitat types by 2030, at least 60 % by 2040, and at least 90% by 2050.
- At least 3% increase in the total national area of urban green space by 2040 and at least 5 % by 2050.
The proposal’s overview summarises that “these nature restoration measures should cover at least 20% of the EU’s land and sea areas by 2030, and all ecosystems in need of restoration by 2050.”
Controversy around the proposed law
The “razor-thin vote” hasn’t inspired confidence in European green associations, and the proposed law continues to receive much backlash from agricultural workers and associations.
German broadcaster DW News reports that “farmers’ associations say they fear the widespread loss of valuable agricultural land.” This is largely due to the Law’s proposed plan to have 30% of peatlands used currently for agricultural purposes restored and repurposed for alternate usage.
Christine Schneider, a politician of the German Christian Democratic Union (CDU), named the law a “poorly drafted […] attack on European agriculture, forestry and fisheries,” and the European People’s Party Group (EEP) “has decided to withdraw from the negotiations.”
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“We are not against this petition — we are very much in favour of restoring nature, but there’s specific parts of this law that we’re very unhappy with […] we believe that […] the impact assessment only focused on the benefits to society and not actually on the impact that [the law] will have on farmers, forest-owners and fisheries. Alongside this, there’s the issue of money. There isn’t the money here. The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) […] is geared towards biodiversity but is not geared towards restoration.”
Curley here outlines the two, fundamental issues with the proposed law, discussed above: the fear that farmers, landowners and fisheries will be adversely affected, and a lack of certainty surrounding funding. He added that the decision has been “rejected in the Committee on Agriculture and the Committee on Fisheries.”
Since the upcoming trilogues are the forum that should enable agreement between the European Parliament, Council, and Commission on a final version of the Nature Restoration Law, it is clear that these will decide the fate of Europe’s sustainable future.
However, the law might be finalised without having recourse to the trilogues, as agricultural associations vigorously contest the law, while networks of NGOs speak out to urge those in power to pass the strongest Nature Restoration Law possible.
Upsurge in the #RestoreNature Coalition
The razor-thin vote in the EU parliament has spurred green organisations across Europe to join the #RestoreNature Coalition, which began with only three organisations: international organisation Birdlife Europe and Central Asia, network of environmental organisations The European Environmental Bureau (EEB), and nonprofit World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
The coalition has written a common letter to decision-makers for the signing of the general public, as well as a joint statement to “national governments, Members of the European Parliament and the European Commission”.
This statement has been signed by “over 200 civil society organisations,” including Birdlife Europe and Central Asia, The European Environmental Bureau (EEB), World Wildlife Fund (WWF), ClientEarth, Climate Catalyst, Deutsche Umwelthilfe, Generation Climate Europe (GCE), and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), to name but a few.
The European #RestoreNature joint statement calls for the following:
- Ensuring all terrestrial and marine habitats are covered by quantified, time-bound and enforceable targets in and outside Natura 2000 areas.
- Ensuring dedicated and additional funding to finance restoration measures.
- Ensuring the Law can enter into force immediately, without preconditions for the timely and steady implementation of the restoration targets.
Of course, controversy remains surrounding the potential changes to the law in the upcoming trilogues, and agricultural workers are keen to make their voices heard. Ultimately, though, organisations that back the #RestoreNature joint statement and agricultural associations both want the Nature Restoration Law to be passed — it’s the specific content of the law that the people want altered in the run up to the trilogues.
“Civil society continues to support the EU decision-makers as they edge towards agreement on the first Nature Restoration Law for Europe. However, the devil is in the detail – this law can put nature on the path to recovery only if it obliges governments to take effective measures to recover species and habitats severely impacted by intensive agriculture, forestry and fisheries. Only an ambitious EU law offering real solutions to tackle biodiversity and climate crisis could fulfil the EU’s international commitments to protect and restore nature.” (bolding added)
Overall, what we appear to be seeing increasingly across Europe is more widespread civic and organisational backing for a greener future.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by the authors are their own, not those of Impakter.com — In the Featured Photo: Green leaves. Featured Photo Credit: Cátia Matos.