The European Commission proposed a new Nature Restoration Law on the 22nd of June with pioneering legally binding targets and €100 billion for EU Member States to restore 20% of EU degraded land and sea by 2030. The proposed regulation is considered by many conservationists the first major piece of EU Biodiversity legislation since the Habitats Directive in 1992 and is expected to have significant implications beyond the EU, including the Mediterranean.
The overall aim of the Commission proposal is to restore natural degraded ecosystems, in particular those with the most potential to remove and store carbon and to reduce the impact of industrial pollution, poor agriculture, erosion, and climate change.
This came at a time when Europe, particularly the Mediterranean, is currently facing, for yet another summer, extensive wildfires in Portugal, Spain, France, and Greece and is being hit by extreme weather, with Italy affected by severe droughts and water shortages already before the beginning of summer, and intense rain storms leading to severe flooding in Spain.
Today, 81% of EU-protected habitats are in poor condition, according to the European Environment Agency (EEA). The emerging food and energy crises of the war in Ukraine further intensify the necessity to nationally, regionally, and globally adapt to the ongoing effects of climate change. The recently published, 2nd Global Land Outlook Report – the most comprehensive report that has been produced on land degradation and land restoration so far – reaffirms the need for urgent action on ecosystem restoration, climate change, and nature conservation as humans have already transformed over 70% of Earth’s land area from its natural state.
The proposed targets apply to every EU Member State, complementing existing laws, and include:
- Reversing the decline of pollinator populations by 2030 and increasing their populations from there on.
- No net loss of green urban spaces by 2030, a 5% increase by 2050, a minimum of 10% tree canopy cover in every European city, town, and suburb, and net gain of green space that is integrated to buildings and infrastructure.
- In agricultural ecosystems, overall increase of biodiversity, and a positive trend for grassland butterflies, farmland birds, organic carbon in cropland mineral soils, and high-diversity landscape features on agricultural land.
- Restoration and rewetting of drained peatlands under agricultural use and in peat extraction sites.
- In forest ecosystems, overall increase of biodiversity and a positive trend for forest connectivity, deadwood, share of uneven-aged forests, forest birds and stock of organic carbon.
- Restoring marine habitats such as seagrasses or sediment bottoms, and restoring the habitats of iconic marine species such as dolphins and porpoises, sharks and seabirds.
- Removing river barriers so that at least 25,000 km of rivers are turned into free-flowing rivers by 2030.
The restoration law will be discussed by the European Parliament and the Council in line with the ordinary legislative procedure, and although already delayed, it may conclude by the end of the year under the Czech Presidency. If passed, it will require Member States to develop within two years National Restoration Plans to decide what to restore and how to finance it.
MIO-ECSDE considers the new EU Nature Restoration Law as a very important time-bound step towards combating the triple planetary crisis of pollution, climate change, and biodiversity loss, all issues of enormous importance and relevance to the Mediterranean. The inclusion of forest ecosystems and marine areas (in particular, seagrass and seabed) among the spheres of intervention of the law and the bottom-up approach of the restoration planning by Member States, are both welcome points.
However, MIO-ECSDE has identified some weaknesses (which it has also fed into the Commission’s public consultation on nature restoration targets under EU biodiversity strategy) and puts forth some recommendations in order to facilitate the strong implementation of the legislation and not limit it to wishful thinking:
- It is not clear how different the efforts to be made by Member States will be, given the national and regional characteristics (ecosystems, biodiversity richness, endemism, etc.).
- We are concerned that giving too much freedom to Member States will result in delays and a lack of effective action at national level.
- The proposal needs to reflect better that restoration needs cooperation among European regions with a strong legal enabling foundation.
- The need for public participation and consultation provisions for the development of the national restoration plans needs to be further strengthened in the proposal to ensure openness and inclusivity in their formulation.
- The vagueness of what the cumulative effects of the implementation of the law would be on different stakeholders and sectors (fishers, farmers, land owners, forest managers, industry, renewables, etc.) implies that assessments would have to be done by Member States.
- Climate change adaptation and fire-smart management plans, policies, and practices must be considered when setting targets to ensure no deterioration of ecosystems following their restoration.
- The new law should clearly define the funding mechanisms and facilitate the participation of NGOs and other interested actors in this endeavor.
- The enforceability of the 20% overarching objective for 2030 needs to be better clarified. Only real area-based restoration should count towards this objective while terrestrial “compensation” for lacking marine restoration should be avoided.
The proposed legislation addresses the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, led by UNEP and the Food and Agriculture Organization, and is the EU’s key contribution in the ongoing negotiations on a post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework to be adopted at the Convention on Biological Diversity COP15 in Montréal from 5 to 17 December this year.
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