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Inside the EU’s new nature restoration law

The Tatra Mountains in Poland. Photo: Dreamstime
The Tatra Mountains in Poland. Photo: Dreamstime

The European Union’s (EU’s) new nature restoration law requires the bloc to rehabilitate at least 20% of its land and sea areas by 2030 — and all degraded ecosystems by the middle of the century.

The legislation will help the EU to achieve its climate and biodiversity objectives while also enhancing food security, the region’s parliament said in a statement after voting to approve it.

“Today is an important day for Europe, as we move from protecting and conserving nature to restoring it,” said Spanish politician and EU parliamentarian César Luena.

How it works: Member states will be required to restore at least 30% of the habitats covered by the regulation — including forests, grasslands, wetlands, rivers, lakes and coral beds — from a “poor” to a “good” condition by 2030, before reaching the 60% mark by 2040, and 90% by 2050.

This will be no easy feat. A recent study by the European Environment Agency found that more than 80% of the region’s habitats are in poor shape.

Under the new legal framework, which now requires formal approval by member states, the EU’s network of 27,000 protected nature sites will be the first priority areas, and each country will have to draw up its own national restoration plans.

Among other specific targets, the law requires an additional three billion trees to be planted, the restoration of at least 25,000km of rivers to free-flowing condition, a reversal in the decline of pollinators, and the protection of all urban green spaces.

While the agricultural aspects of the rules were watered down to appease striking farmers, they nevertheless mandate biodiversity improvements on EU farmland.

Farmers will need to restore grassland butterfly populations, make space for non-productive buffer zones where biodiversity can thrive, maintain soil quality, and increase bird populations. Moreover, states must restore at least 30% of drained peatlands by 2030, and 50% by 2050.

“The nature restoration law represents a historic opportunity to bring nature back to Europe,” the World Wildlife Fund said in a statement. “At a time when the continent is ravaged by floods, droughts and fires, this law will help secure a safer and healthier future for Europeans.”

Noor Yafai, a director at The Nature Conservancy, said the framework was passed in spite of a “powerful and ongoing disinformation campaign”, and this signals that the EU Parliament recognises the link between nature and human wellbeing.

However, Yafai said “a lot of hard work now lies ahead”.

“The fact that some key measures to support the sustainability of farming were voted down in the negotiation process clearly shows the need for greater collaboration and understanding across all sectors of Europe’s economy and society.

“Agriculture depends on biodiversity, and therefore it is critical that we build stronger partnerships between policymakers, civil society, farmers, and industry to find a way to make nature protection and restoration feasible, affordable, and inclusive.”

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