EU Parliament Adopts Nature Restoration Law, Overcoming Last-Minute Objections

The European Parliament announced today that it has adopted aimed at restoring and protecting natural habitats and ecosystems, including a mandated target for EU countries implement measures to restore at least 20% of the EU’s land and sea areas by 2030, and for all ecosystems in need of restoration by 2050.

The new law passed with a narrow majority of 329 votes in favor, with 275 against and 24 abstentions, after the European People’s Party (EPP), the largest party in Parliament, announced earlier this week that it would vote against the legislation, citing concerns about the new law’s impact on farmers, including increased bureaucracy and reporting obligations.

In a statement released prior to the vote, EPP Group Vice Chair Siegfried Mureșan said:

“There are fears that many Member States will use the law to introduce bureaucracy and far-reaching monitoring and reporting obligations for farmers and foresters, while claiming that the EU is forcing them to do so. As a result, the affected farmers and foresters would once again look to Brussels with resentment, when the problem is homemade and lies with the respective national governments.”

The new proposed law narrowly survived the Parliamentary approval process last year, also following a campaign led by the EPP, on claims that the proposals would threaten food security and agriculture, and would work against Europe’s clean energy and climate goals, by reducing capacity of energy sources such as hydropower and biomass. In order to achieve approval, the legislation included a series of adjustments from the initial proposal, including the addition of a new article ensuring that the law does not block renewable energy infrastructure projects overwhelmingly in the public interest, and requiring the EU Commission to provide data on conditions necessary to guarantee long-term food security.

The initial proposal was launched by the European Commission in June 2022, with an objective to restore ecosystems, habitats and species across the EU’s land and sea areas, with studies indicating that more than 80% of European habitats are in poor shape.

Under the new legislation, member states will be required to put into place restoration measures to restore at least 30% of habitats that are in poor condition by 2030, increasing to 60% by 2040, and 90% by 2050, and to regularly submit national restoration plans indicating how they will deliver on the targets.

The law sets out specific requirements for different types of ecosystems, covering wetlands, grasslands, forests, rivers and lakes, as well as marine ecosystems such as seagrass and sponge and coral beds.

Additional regulations under the legislation include a requirement for member states to set out measures to reverse the decline of pollinator populations, put in place restoration measures for organic soils in agricultural use constituting drained peatlands, viewed as one of the most cost-effective measures to reduce emissions in the agricultural sector and improve biodiversity, an efforts-based requirement to prevent significant deterioration of areas subject to restoration that have reached good condition, and to achieve an increasing trend in urban green areas.

Following Parliament’s position, the law also includes an “emergency brake” to suspend its agricultural ecosystem targets if they severely reduce the land needed for sufficient food production for EU consumption.

The new legislation will now need to be adopted by the EU Council prior to entering into force. Member states will be required to submit their first nature restoration plans within two years after the law’s entry into force.

Following the vote, MEP and rapporteur César Luena, said:

“Today is an important day for Europe, as we move from protecting and conserving nature to restoring it. The new law will also help us to fulfil many of our international environmental commitments. The regulation will restore degraded ecosystems while respecting the agricultural sector by giving flexibility to member states. I would like to thank scientists for providing the scientific evidence and fighting climate denial and young people for reminding us that there is no planet B, nor plan B.”