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EU passes historic nature restoration law. Here’s what it entails

An unspoiled valley in Austria with mountains in the background.
A valley in Austria. Photo: Dreamstime

The European Union has passed a first-of-its-kind law aimed at protecting nature and restoring damaged ecosystems.

The legislation appeared dead and buried in the wake of fierce opposition from farmers and populist politicians, but Austria’s climate minister broke ranks with her government to give it the extra vote needed for its formal adoption.

“My conscience tells me unequivocally: When the healthy and happy lives of future generations are at stake, courageous decisions are needed,” the minister, Leonore Gewessler, wrote on X, formerly Twitter. She faces criminal charges from Austrian chancellor Karl Nehammer for defying his instructions.

What it means: The Nature Restoration Law will require EU member states to put measures in place to restore at least 20% of the bloc’s land and sea areas by 2030, and all ecosystems in need of restoration by 2050. It sets specific, legally binding targets and obligations for different types of habitats, including coastlines, rivers and lakes, forests, agricultural and urban ecosystems, wetlands, and grasslands.

Among other things, member states will be obligated to:

  • Reverse the decline of pollinator populations by 2030 at the latest.
  • Boost grassland butterfly populations, the stock of organic carbon in cropland mineral soils, and the share of agricultural land with high-diversity landscape features.
  • Increase the population of forest birds.
  • Ensure there’s no net loss of urban green spaces and tree canopy cover.
  • Restore drained peatlands and help plant at least three billion additional trees by 2030 across the EU.
  • Turn at least 25,000 kilometres of rivers into free-flowing rivers by 2030 by removing man-made barriers.  

With the legislation now approved, EU member states must submit national restoration plans to the European Commission, showing how they’ll achieve the targets. In the years ahead, they will be required to report on their progress.

The law’s approval “is a massive victory for Europe’s nature and citizens who have been long calling for immediate action to tackle nature’s alarming decline,” a group of nonprofits, including the World Wildlife Fund for Nature and Birdlife Europe, said in a joint statement.

“Now, we need all hands on deck. Member states must properly implement this legislation without delay in their countries, in close collaboration with all involved stakeholders,” they said.

Tags: Leonore Gewessler, Nature restoration law
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