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    European Parliament Approves Nature Restoration Law

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    Stockholm (NordSIP) – On February 27th, the European Parliament adopted the Nature Restoration Law, which hopes to restore 20% of EU’s land and sea. According to the law, EU countries must restore at least 30% of habitats in poor condition by 2030, 60% by 2040, and 90% by 2050. The deal was adopted with 329 votes in favour, 275 against and 24 abstentions.

    The Way Here

    The EU Nature Law has had a complicated conception. Initially proposed by the European Commission in June 2022, ahead of the COP15 on biodiversity, the law was plagued by polarised positions by the right and the left-wing blocs in the European Parliament, leading to a delay in the Parliament’s adoption of a joint position upon which to negotiate the proposal with the governments of the EU member states represented in the European Council.

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    In June 2023, the entire proposal was almost dismissed by the European Parliament’s Environmental Committee (ENVI), but for a draw of 44 votes against and in favour of the “motion to reject”. The vote meant that the parliamentary proposal to reject the Commission’s draft Nature Restoration Law had to be sent to the plenary session of the European Parliament. In July 2023, a 12-vote majority in a plenary session of the  European Parliament opposed the “motion to reject”, thus allowing the legislative process to crawl through. Thus the summer of 2023 was marred by political attacks and accusations of conspiracy theories. The European Parliament’s ability to overcome efforts to reject discussions of the law outright was aided by a 20-country majority in the European Council which agreed on a “general approach” upon which to negotiate the issue the week before the vote came to the parliament’s plenary session.

    “Today is a good day for nature. The Council has agreed on a general approach of the nature restoration law. It is evident that the presidency has been working hard to find the right balance and has listened carefully to all member states who have had different concerns and remarks on the proposals. I am glad that we have found a way to bring this file to a general approach. This text is a solid basis for negotiations with the European Parliament. Hopefully, the final nature restoration law will allow us to rebuild a healthy level of biodiversity, fight climate change and meet our international commitments under the Kunming-Montreal agreement,” said Romina Pourmokhtari, Swedish Minister for climate and the environment.

    Despite Pourmokhtari comments, Sweden was reportedly one of the five countries that opposed this general agreement, together with Finland, Italy, the Netherlands and Poland. Indeed, the negotiations were also fierce in the Council, resulting in a general agreement which was also attacked and described as a watered-down version of the Commission’s initial proposal. Although it celebrated the Council’s ability to move the legislative process forward, on this occasion, the World Wide Fund (WWF) warned that “Member States agreed on much-increased flexibility and multiple exemptions that create legal loopholes and weaken the benefits that the law could bring on the ground”.

    Reactions

    Echoing the polarised nature of the entire legislative process underlying the EU’s Nature Restoration Law, the present form of the proposal that is likely to become law was celebrated by its supporters and vilified by its detractors.

    “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,” rapporteur César Luena (S&D, ES) said after the vote at the end of February 2024.

    Generally speaking, WWF was supportive of the deal struck by the EU institutions, describing the agreement as showing that “they listened to the calls of over 1 million citizens, businesses, scientists and NGOs, and have paved the way for this first-of-its-kind law to become a reality.”

    Discussing the opposition of the European People’s Party (EPP) to the law, MEP Siegfried Mureșan MEP, Vice-Chair of the EPP Group in charge of budget and structural policies, celebrated the watered-down nature of the legislation. “We welcome the fact that the revised legal text bears little resemblance to the original proposal from the Commission. The Commission’s proposal was ideologically driven, practically unfeasible and a disaster for farmers, forest owners, fishermen and local authorities. It threatened to slow down the roll-out of key infrastructure and renewable energy. The revised text is now better. But it is still better to start from scratch and put farmers’ interests first,” said Mureșan. “The EPP Group continues to have serious concerns about the Nature Restoration Law. We do not want new and more forms of bureaucracy and reporting obligations for farmers. Let farmers farm,” Mureșan argued.

    Perhaps the endorsement from NGOs despite the loopholes can be best understood in light of the symbolic value of the Nature Restoration Law. “The Nature Restoration Law has always been so much more than a law to bring back nature. It is a symbol that Europe can, and will, commit to fighting for the survival of our planet. We are relieved that MEPs listened to facts and science, and did not give in to populism and fearmongering. Now, we urge Member States to follow suit and deliver this much-needed law to bring back nature in Europe,” the #RestoreNature coalition, consisting of BirdLife Europe, ClientEarth, EEB, and WWF EU, says.

    The Path Ahead

    The law now also has to be adopted by the European Council, which is expected to take place in March or April. Once this process is concluded, the law will be published in the EU Official Journal and enter into force 20 days later.

    Image courtesy of Udo Pohlmann via Pixabay
    Filipe Albuquerque
    Filipe Albuquerque
    Filipe is an economist with 8 years of experience in macroeconomic and financial analysis for the Economist Intelligence Unit, the UN World Institute for Development Economic Research, the Stockholm School of Economics and the School of Oriental and African Studies. Filipe holds a MSc in European Political Economy from the LSE and a MSc in Economics from the University of London, where he currently is a PhD candidate.
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