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21st Feb 2024

Big businesses back EU nature restoration law, after EPP attack

  • Previously two parliamentary committees rejected the nature restoration proposal (Photo: Andreas)
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Major corporations, including Nestlé, Iberdrola and SPAR, have come out in support of the EU Nature Restoration Law, following sustained attacks against the proposal led by the centre-right European People's Party (EPP).

The restoration law aims to reverse biodiversity loss by restoring degraded land and sea areas — but it has come under increased criticism for possible implications that it could have for farmers and farmland.

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"The EU Nature Restoration Law will be a key tool to tackle our climate and biodiversity crises and to guarantee the long-term sustainability and viability of our society and economy," the group of 58 businesses said in a statement on Monday (12 June).

Echoing the same message, other coalition corporations including Unilever and IKEA also signed on Monday an open letter warning that "the costs of inaction will bring much greater challenges and risks for the economy".

Their calls come ahead of a crucial vote on the EU parliament's environment committee (lead committee on the file) on Thursday (15 June), expected to be tight.

Previously, two parliamentary committees rejected the nature restoration proposal.

The EU nature restoration regulation, proposed by the EU Commission in June 2022, sets legally-binding targets to restore 20 percent of EU land and sea by 2030.

But the parliament position foresees at least 30 percent of degraded land and sea restored by the end of this decade. While the percentage change does not aim to increase the overall ambition of this law, the parliament's wording is in line with international agreements under COP15 UN Biodiversity Conference in Montreal.

"Large corporations defend the Nature Restoration Law as common sense," said lead MEP Spanish socialist César Luena — pointing out that the EPP is isolated in its opposition.

Frank Elderson, a member of the European Central Bank executive board, last week also warned against the impact of biodiversity loss on the economy.

"If nature degradation continues, economic activities dependent on ecosystem services will be affected by issues such as supply chain disruptions impacting prices and ultimately inflation," he wrote.

For its part, the EPP, led by German MEP Manfred Weber, has attacked the proposal as badly designed, calling for a full rejection of the text.

They argued that the EU's restoration rules would hinder food security and strategic goals, including renewables deployment and mining critical raw materials.

"I would suggest the commission takes this proposal back, clean up this act and do a more proper impact assessment," said EPP Dutch MEP Esther de Lange during a press conference last week.

However, the EPP's arguments over the deployment of renewables being at risk have been countered by leading companies in the sector.

Wind Europe's business group come out arguing that EPP's narrative was "fundamentally wrong" as nature restoration and the development of wind energy "go hand-in-hand".

'Non-deterioration' principle

Beyond infighting in the EU parliament, talks over the restoration law have also prompted concerns among some member states. Belgian prime minister Alexander De Croo in mid-May called for a regulatory 'pause', as he faced opposition from the Flanders region against the restoration proposal.

Under a preliminary compromise put forward by the current Swedish EU presidency, EU countries agreed to take into account national and regional differences, population density and other social and economic characteristics, while calling for more flexibility in the implementation of the law.

And the 'non-deterioration' principle, especially outside of Natura 2000 protected areas, has been particularly controversial in council discussions, as countries see its implementation as "extremely demanding" in terms of monitoring and assessment, according to an internal document dated 6 June and seen by EUobserver.

EU countries are expected to reach an agreement on their position during the meeting of environmental ministers on 20 June.

EU Commission rows back?

In the face of the attacks from MEPs and EU countries on this proposal, the commission put forward a non-paper that suggests changes to the law in a bid to convince opponents to support the proposal.

The non-paper foresees flexibility on peatlands as carbon sinks, the inclusion of "dedicated language" on critical raw materials, and the possibility to reformulate non-deterioration provisions to require EU countries to put measures in place, instead of asking them to prove effective non-deterioration.

As calls for a dedicated fund for nature restoration have been on the rise, the commission paper also outlined the funding opportunities available from different EU programmes such as the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) and recovery plans.

Nevertheless, national capitals are asking the commission to assess the funding needs for the implementation of this law, in order to identify any potential funding gaps.

Meanwhile, thousands of scientists have long been calling for an ambitious law that complements the already existing laws on biodiversity by adding clear deadlines and concrete targets.

"Between increasing droughts, wildfires, floods, and pollinator decline, biodiversity loss and climate change are already impacting our economy and our wellbeing. It is a matter of concern to see challenges in the path towards a new EU nature restoration law," Alberto Arroyo Schnell from International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) told EUobserver.

In the EU, more than 80 percent of habitats and 60 percent of species now have "poor" or "bad" conservation status.

This article has been updated to better reflect the parliament's environment committee position.

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