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26th Feb 2024

Negotiators finally clinch deal on landmark nature restoration law

  • The watered-down plan agreed on Thursday will oblige EU countries to put in place measures to restore at least 20 percent of the EU's land areas and seas by 2030 (Photo: European Parliament)
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MEPs and EU member states on Thursday night (9 November) clinched a deal on the Nature Restoration Law — one of the most controversial initiatives of the EU's green agenda.

Earlier this year, the draft law faced relentless opposition from lobby groups, various member states and parliamentary opposition spearheaded by the centre-right European People's Party (EPP).

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"First time in 70 years that we have a common restoration policy, biodiversity and nature law," said Spanish socialist MEP César Luena, who has been leading the parliament work on this file.

The watered-down plan agreed on Thursday will oblige EU countries to put in place measures to restore at least 20 percent of the EU's land areas and seas by 2030.

To reach these targets, EU countries will have to bring at least 30 percent of the habitats covered by the legislation back in shape by 2030. Restoration measures will also have to recover 60 percent of habitats in poor condition by 2040 and at least 90 percent by 2050.

"Such a timetable did not exist until now," said liberal Renew Europe MEP Pascal Canfin, arguing that this law has created nature restoration governance for the first time in Europe — setting an action plan for the decades to come.

Under new rules, EU countries will have to prepare detailed national restoration plans to identify threats and drivers of biodiversity loss as well as restoration measures. These plans will be evaluated by the European Commission.

During the negotiations, MEPs pushed to give priority to areas located in Natura 2000 sites.

But agricultural land is also covered by the legislation. For example, EU countries will have to rewet drained peatlands and reverse the decline of pollinator populations by 2030.

Watered-down

However, wording on rewetting peatlands has been weakened, as some EU member states will be "disproportionately impacted" by these obligations according to the EU Council.

The text sets targets to restore 30 percent of drained peatlands used for farming by 2030, bump it up to 40 percent by 2040, and hit 50 percent by 2050. However, member states that are "strongly affected will be able to apply a lower percentage," reads a statement from the EU Council.

Meanwhile, the question of financing remains open. The EU Commission will assess the funding needed to implement the new law and available funding under the EU budget, and come out with a proposal a year after the entry into force of the law.

The EPP, who initially tried to kill off the legislation, has welcomed the introduction of an emergency brake, which will suspend the obligation for member states under special circumstances.

"We are glad to see that the other political groups have moved in our direction," says MEP German Christine Schneider.

However, environmental groups have warned that the unprecedented number of exceptions and loopholes in the law may complicate the implementation of some provisions.

This is for example the case with the non-degradation principle, which is now an effort-based approach instead of a binding clause.

"While this deal is more ambitious than the weak parliament position, it is still a far cry from what science tells us is necessary to tackle the climate and biodiversity emergencies," said Sabien Leemans, from the European branch of WWF.

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

Thursday's deal still has to be adopted by the European Parliament and EU Council.

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