The EU Nature Restoration Law: The Danger of Dilution
Virginijus Sinkevicius (L), the EU Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries chatting to Charlie McConalogue, Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine (R). (Photo by Thierry Monasse/Getty Images)
The European Union is in the throes of negotiating the contentious and divisive Nature Restoration Law which is key to achieving the objectives of the EU Green Deal and the recently agreed Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework. Tragically, there is growing resistance from some member states and negotiations are entering dangerous territory. This level of backlash has not been seen with any other EU environmental directives and it’s causing a great deal of concern.
The conservative members of the European Parliament are calling for the law to be shelved, with two committees rejecting the proposal outright. Farmers, in particular, are expressing their concerns at the impact the law might have on their livelihoods.
What is the EU Nature Restoration Law?
Nature is in a bad way, not just across Europe, but globally, and we’ve reached a point where legislation is required to accelerate action towards its recovery.
We depend on healthy ecosystems, for food, raw materials and medicine but nature also helps to protect us from the impacts of a changing climate. By modifying landscapes, intensifying agriculture and stripping away ancient forests, we have systematically destroyed nature’s capacity to deal with our excess carbon and the subsequent rising global temperatures. Halting and reversing nature loss will help us to capture and store excess carbon, protect the most vulnerable communities and combat the most challenging aspects of climate change.
In 2022, the EU Commission revealed its plans to address nature loss and repair the most degraded landscapes in the bloc. The proposal requires the reparation of 20 percent of Europe’s damaged terrestrial, freshwater and marine habitats by 2030, and a full recovery by 2050. In addition, the proposed law calls out specific ecosystems where nature is hanging in the balance, like peatlands, rivers and urban spaces.
Without simultaneously restoring the natural world, reaching Net Zero and the Paris Agreement target of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius is just a fantasy.
Representatives from the fishing, forestry and agriculture industries have the most to say about the EU Nature Restoration Law, claiming that the proposal is overburdening these industries at a time when the cracks are already showing in the wake of the war in Ukraine and rising costs.
The European People’s Party (EPP) is at the centre of the debate, calling for a wholesale rejection of the proposed law. During the final negotiations, members of the EEP left the room claiming that their concerns were not being heard.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar made claims that some of the targets within the proposal “go too far… particularly if it comes to taking agricultural land out of use for food production”.
These concerns were shared by leaders representing Romania, Poland, Demark, The Netherlands and Austria.
Misinformation has been a feature of some of the negotiations with EEP members. Their narrative claims that the restoration of nature will result in the destruction of local communities, that it will stymie the renewable energy market and that it will curtail food production, inflating food costs.
The reality is that working harmoniously with nature does not mean that land becomes unusable and unproductive. It simply relates to a shift in how we do things, a shift towards regenerative business – working alongside nature instead of against it.
Frans Timmermans, who heads up the EU Commission Green Deal, says “Climate and biodiversity crises are the biggest threats to food security and therefore also to the subsistence of our farmers.”
Many of the arguments put forward relate to the impacts that this nature law may have on food security. But isn’t our food security already profoundly threatened by climate change and biodiversity loss?
“I sometimes hear that these proposals are against farmers,” Timmermans continues. “They are not. They are there to help farmers. Already now, half of our crops, depending on pollination, are at risk of lack of pollinators.”
EU Commissioner for European Green Deal – First Vice President and Executive Vice President Frans Timmermans addresses the media at the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, on July 15, 2021. (Photo by Thierry Monasse/Getty Images)
The EU Commission, members of the scientific community and green politicians are fighting to ensure that this proposal is not diluted. Businesses, NGOs and scientists are sending letters urging the EU institutions to deliver an ambitious law to protect nature.
Some groups are even calling for increased targets but after the departure of the EEP from negotiations, the proposal now has to move to a committee vote.
The Commission is dedicated to delivering a meaningful and impactful law to protect and conserve Europe’s natural heritage, now and for years to come.
June 20th marks the next convention of the environment ministers, where they will look to dilute the proposal and add more flexibility.
Many remain optimistic about the outcome of the discussions and Frans Timmermans confirmed that another version of the proposal will not be drafted.