European Parliament agrees on landmark nature restoration law

What’s happening? The European Parliament has approved a law aimed at restoring nature, intending to rejuvenate at least 20% of the EU’s terrestrial and marine environments by 2030, amid considerable protest from farmers and opposition from right-wing political factions. The legislation, integral to the EU’s Green Deal, seeks to address the biodiversity crisis by setting ambitious restoration targets for ecosystems by 2050. Despite resistance, including farmers’ protests involving tyre burning and confrontations with riot police in Brussels, the law passed with significant support. It now faces the final hurdle of approval from the EU Council. Critics argue it imposes undue burdens on agriculture, while environmental groups commend its passage as a victory for science and ecological preservation. (IUCN)  

Why does this matter? The EU’s nature restoration law has been heralded as the most significant policy for nature in the bloc since the habitats directive, adopted in the early 1990s. Restoring nature offers myriad benefits including mitigating the impacts of climate change, reducing pest outbreaks, improving wellbeing, and increasing carbon sequestration. By 2050, for example, restoring ecosystems across the EU is estimated to yield economic benefits worth €1.8tn ($1.9tn), with restoration costs at just €154bn, according to a study published by the European Commission in 2023. 

Wider policy objectives – The law will help EU member states achieve other climate and biodiversity objectives, such as the new EU forest strategy, and the 30×30 goal, agreed at COP15. Not only does the law restore nature from “poor” to “good”, but holds member states accountable, ensuring habitats do not “significantly deteriorate” following restoration. 

Fierce opposition – Since its proposal in 2022, the law has been met with opposition from agricultural sectors. According to an impact assessment by the European Commission, agriculture, forestry and fishery sectors will suffer the highest consequences. Forestry, for example, will be impacted as intensive extractive practices will be outlawed. 

Precious peatland – A contentious point for farmers is the conversion of arable land, particularly drained peatland. Under the law, 30% of drained peatlands must be restored by the end of the decade, rising to 70% by 2050. Although the conversion of arable land to peatland presents a market risk in the short-term to the agricultural sector, the benefits to the climate are vast. Peatlands are comprised of dead plants and form over millennia. These ecosystems are a vast carbon sink – despite taking up just 3% of land surface, peatlands store almost double the amount of CO2 as the world’s forests combined. When converted for agriculture, peatlands become a carbon source, representing 7% of Europe’s emissions, equivalent to the bloc’s industrial emissions. Restoring peatlands at this scale has been viewed as a “paradigm shift”, saving emissions on a scale comparable to phasing out coal. 

EU to make fossil fuel firms pay? – In a separate development, the EU plans to propose that the fossil fuel industry must contribute to the cost of combating climate change in less affluent countries, according to a draft document. The proposal comes ahead of this year’s COP29 climate negotiations in Baku, Azerbaijan, where a new global finance target is to be established, significantly exceeding the current commitment of $100bn per year. The draft, which is open for revision, suggests exploring innovative finance sources, including contributions from the fossil fuel sector, to meet the escalating costs associated with climate change impacts including heatwaves, droughts, and rising sea levels. The OECD estimates that poor nations’ climate investment needs could reach $1tn per year by 2025. 

 

 

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