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    Narrow Victory for Nature Restoration Law

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    Stockholm (NordSIP) – Following months of often fractious negotiations, the European Union’s (EU) Nature Restoration Law (NRL) was approved today, 17 June 2024 by the Environmental Council.  The law had been the subject of a concerted opposition campaign co-ordinated by the right-leaning European People’s Party (EPP), which drew accusations of disinformation and other aggressive tactics rarely seen in EU legislative procedures.

    The NRL was passed by the narrowest of margins, with 20 member nations voting in favour to achieve a 66.07% victory.  A minimum of 65% is required for law to pass, with a last-minute change of direction by Austria allowing the threshold to be reached.  Nordic nations Sweden and Finland joined the Netherlands, Hungary, Poland, and Italy in opposing the NRL.  Belgium stood alone in abstaining from the vote.  The agricultural lobby in several of these countries was at heart of the opposition campaign, with farmers complaining of potential loss of revenues should the NRL be implemented.

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    The world’s first binding, continent-wide nature law

    Despite the narrow margin of victory, some dilution of the initial legislative wording, and the lingering voices of dissent, the NRL is being hailed as a historic first.  All EU member states will now be obliged to restore at least 20% of their land and marine areas by 2030 and all degraded ecosystems by 2050.  The restoration activities will prioritise Natura 2000 protected areas including wetlands, forests, rivers, grasslands, and other natural habitats that support threatened flora and fauna in both rural and urban settings.  Many of these areas offer the added benefit of being powerful carbon sinks, thus supporting EU member states’ compliance with their obligations under the Paris climate agreement.  The NRL also reflects the commitments made at Montreal’s COP15 biodiversity event in December 2022, whereby signatory nations sought to restore and protect 30% of the planet by 2030 – the so-called 30×30 pledge.

    While the opposition from farmers and right-wing political groups is unlikely to disappear completely, the NRL is being enthusiastically welcomed by environmental non-governmental organisations (NGOs).  A statement released by the Restore Nature Coalition, which comprises BirdLife Europe, ClientEarth, the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) and WWF EU said: “Today’s vote is a massive victory for Europe’s nature and citizens who have been long calling for immediate action to tackle nature’s alarming decline.  After years of intense campaigning and many ups and downs, we are jubilant that this law is now reality – this day will go down in history as a turning point for nature and society.  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.  At the end of the day, nature can bounce back, for the benefit of our climate, biodiversity and people!”

    Image courtesy of Steven Lelham on Unsplash
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