8th Dec 2023

Member states voice support for strong nature restoration law

  • The law aims to protect 30 percent of ecosystems by 2030 (Photo: Wikipedia)
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A day after the landmark biodiversity agreement was reached in Montreal, the EU's environmental ministers on Tuesday (20 December) voiced support for a nature restoration law which will set legally binding targets for nature restoration for 20 percent of Europe's land and sea area's by 2030.

"Our biodiversity is what we live on, why we thrive. It's about time we see ourselves as part of nature, not outside it," executive vice president and EU climate chief Frans Timmermans told ministers.

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At the COP15 UN conference for biodiversity, titled the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework after the official host cities in China and Canada, 196 countries agreed on quantifiable objectives such as reducing pesticide use by 50 percent and a clause to protect 30 percent of the world's ecosystems by 2030.

Financiers will have to assign a price to natural resources which so far have been treated as free. Governments will have to implement measures and laws to achieve the targets.

The EU's Nature Restoration law, published by the EU Commission in June 2022, is the primary legislative vehicle to reach this target in Europe. And on Tuesday, member states exchanged views on the law proposal for the first time.

The law would legally bind member states to restoration targets for various ecosystems like forests, soils and water for the first time.

"Today [sends] a strong signal that the EU is on the right track with its ambition for a nature restoration law," said Sabien Leemans, senior biodiversity officer at World Wildlife Fund, on Tuesday. "We need a speedy process to adopt this law. Large-scale nature restoration cannot wait."

Luxembourg, France, Belgium, Estonia, Slovenia, Italy, Denmark and Germany supported a speedy implementation of the law, with some even supporting higher targets than the current proposal.

"I think the restoration targets could be sped up, and we should look at 100 percent restoration of degraded ecosystems by 2050," said Joëlle Welfring, Luxembourg's minister for the environment.

The current commission proposal has set a restoration target of 90 percent by mid-century.

She also called to increase targets on agricultural lands to protect pollinators and birds: "We will need to work very hard to strike a balance with other interests, but we have to get on with that now in a very decisive matter because the benefits will be 10 times higher than the costs."

But some countries pushed back on the current proposal, with Hungary citing a lack of EU funds available under the bloc's 2021-2027 budget to achieve national biodiversity targets and Poland citing a "lack of coherence" with EU climate targets.

"We want to reduce the use of plastic, but [under the proposed biodiversity rules] we limit the use of forested areas. So where do we take the material to replace the plastic with?" asked Polish health minister Adam Niedzielski.

"Please, please don't create a contradiction between nature restoration and food production and don't let anybody fool you into believing that there is," said Timmermans.

The next discussion in the council of environment ministers is planned for March 2023, with a final agreement expected to be adopted in June 2023 under the Swedish rotating presidency.

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