EU nature restoration law: Huge opportunity to fight biodiversity and climate crises

Posted on June, 22 2022

The legislative proposal for binding nature restoration targets presented by the European Commission today can put the EU’s degraded ecosystems on a path to recovery.
The Commission’s proposal is a huge milestone; it is the first major piece of EU biodiversity legislation since the Habitats Directive in 1992. We call for its urgent adoption and implementation as it is a true and strong attempt to reverse the tide of biodiversity loss and climate change. The European Parliament and Council of the EU must fully endorse the positive elements and strengthen the existing weaknesses without delay.

Sabien Leemans, Senior Biodiversity Policy Officer at WWF European Policy Office
“The restoration law is a huge opportunity to bring nature back before the climate and biodiversity crises spiral completely out of control. Restoration of ecosystems like peatlands, forests and seagrass meadows can help reduce emissions and sequester millions of tonnes of carbon each year. The Commission’s proposal is good, but we need to keep in mind the urgency and make sure the bulk of the restoration action in these ecosystems is not pushed back beyond 2030. This decade must be the turning point to place nature on the path to recovery.”

Laura Hildt, Policy Officer for Biodiversity at the European Environmental Bureau:  
“The window to adapt to the reality of the climate crisis is rapidly closing. Today’s Nature Restoration Law proposal is a strong tool to bring back and improve ecosystems that can help us to deal with droughts, floods and heatwaves. The overarching obligation to restore 20% of the EU’s land and sea by 2030 can be game-changing – provided all Member States do their fair share and put in place real restoration measures.” 

Sofie Ruysschaert, Nature Restoration Policy Officer at Birdlife Europe and Central Asia:
“We’re not just talking about the survival of nature, we’re talking about the survival of humankind. From farming to fishing, our ability to continue feeding humanity hangs on repairing the damage done to ecosystems while we still can. Vested interests argue that nature is a threat to our food provision, but the truth is that it is our most important ally. But the devil is in the details – this law can put nature on the path to recovery only if it makes governments take effective measures to recover species and habitats severely impacted by intensive agriculture, forestry and fisheries practices.”

Ioannis Agapakis, Wildlife and Habitats lawyer at ClientEarth:
“To secure a future for humanity, restoring nature is just as important as tackling climate change, and this law sets the foundation for bringing biodiversity back from the brink in the EU. Setting concrete targets and securing strong national implementation tools can turn the tide in the fight against these twin crises, but only if they are enforced. For this law to have teeth, we need to see planning and monitoring, rules for the measures adopted, and consistency with other EU legislation – otherwise the law’s targets will remain just numbers on a page.”

For more information:

Bartosz Brzezinski
Senior Communications Officer for Biodiversity

Notes to editors:

Strong elements
The text includes strong elements such as the overarching objective for area-based restoration measures on 20% of the EU land and sea area by 2030, as well as time-bound restoration obligations for natural habitats, covering terrestrial, coastal, freshwater and marine ecosystems. These have a potential to improve the state of nature at large scale.

Also of great importance are the results-based targets for the restoration of agricultural and forest ecosystems. These will oblige Member States to make progress in the recovery of vulnerable species and their habitats in land and seascapes currently overused by intensive practices. Such targets have been under extreme pressure by primary sectors wanting to keep their high-impact production activities.

In addition, it is good to see that Member States will have to draw up national restoration plans with the key elements on what to restore where and how to finance it. The Commission’s review and linked obligation for Member States to adapt their plans accordingly are also promising to ensure that the plans actually deliver. 

What needs to improve
We will be working with the Parliament and Council to improve the proposal in the co-decision process. The key elements include: 
  • By failing to overcome the deadlock risk posed by the Common Fisheries Policy’s ineffective procedure for managing destructive fishing impacts, the marine restoration targets risk being unimplementable and empty in practice. A safeguard mechanism should therefore be added to ensure the Commission can break the deadlock if Member States cannot agree to the measures required to achieve the restoration targets.  
  • While it is positive that there is a separate article on river and floodplain restoration, the law should contain quantified and time-bound targets to remove barriers. Member States should be required to restore 15% of river length (178,000 km) into free-flowing rivers by 2030 as well as restoration of floodplains.
  • The targets on rewetting peatlands should be strengthened so that a higher share of peatlands under agricultural use is rewetted without loopholes. Drained peatlands account for 5% of total EU greenhouse gas emissions, so the nature restoration law needs to contain strong targets on rewetting peatlands to ensure these store carbon instead of emitting it.
  • The compliance architecture must be made more robust to allow enforcement and proper monitoring, ensuring that each Member State contributes fairly to the overarching objective. 
The new restoration law is a huge opportunity to bring nature back before the climate and biodiversity crises spiral completely out of control.
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