HomeProgress'Nature Restoration Law', green light with downward agreement

'Nature Restoration Law', green light with downward agreement

On 9 November 2023 the 'Nature Restoration Law' (#NRL) finally got the green light, with a downward agreement between the European Parliament and the Council. Details and short notes to follow.

1) 'Nature Restoration Law'

'Nature Restoration Law' aspired to the effective restoration of natural areas, agricultural land and other ecosystems (i.e wetlands, woods and forests, urban greenery) in the European Union, in line with the Sustainable Development Goals in the UN Agenda 2030. Biodiversity, health of soils and water basins, health and well-being of populations, sustainable production and cities.

The boycott initial by the first political group in the European Parliament - European People's Party (EPP), with the support of libertarians (Renew Europe) and independents (Identity and Democracy) - has however laid the foundations for a downward negotiation on the innovative EU regulation proposal . To the detriment, as always, of unaware citizens (1,2,3).

1.1) Restoration of natural ecosystems

The final text of the proposal, following the agreement between the European Parliament and the Council, simply provides that:

– Member States will have to adopt a detailed plan describing how they intend to achieve the recovery objectives

– at least 20% of emerged lands and 20% of marine areas by 2030 and of all ecosystems degraded by 2050. That is, in practice,

– restore already protected habitats ex lege which today are in degraded conditions. 30% by 2030, 60% by 2040, 90% by 2050,

– with priority given to areas protected by Natura 2000. And the commitment to maintaining the 'good condition' status of the various areas, when this has been achieved.

1.2) Objectives of restoring agricultural land

The recovery objectives of agricultural land from degradation have encountered the most strenuous resistance. EPP (European People's Party) boasts the result of having achieved 'notable improvements', in favor of the Big Ag lobbies. The final text of the agreement indeed:

– excludes 'environmental conditionality' on the granting of CAP contributions (or CAP, Common Agriculture Policy),

– eliminates the obligation to dedicate 10% of agricultural land to landscape elements (i.e. hedges, flowers, areas of ecological interest),

– introduces the exemption of farmers from pursuing environmental objectives, in the event that production is threatened.

Member States they will instead have to maintain the objective'de minimis' to achieve a positive trend in at least two out of three of the following indicators by 2030:

– presence of butterflies in the meadows (Grassland Butterfly Indicator),

– share of agricultural land with 'high biodiversity' landscape characteristics,

– organic carbon stocks in cultivated soils.

The peat bogs – which is recognized as having a high capacity to store carbon and improve biodiversity – will have to be restored by at least 30% in 2030, 40% by 2040, 50% by 2050.

1.3) Pollinating insects

Pollinating insects, protagonists of biodiversity and agricultural production itself, receive minimal attention which is expressed in the obligation for member states to reverse the decline of their populations by 2030.

The improvement' of this measure - without binding instruments, concrete actions to be undertaken and harmonized measurement criteria - will be re-evaluated every six years. With all due respect to the European Citizens' Initiative 'Save the Bees and the Farmers'. (4)

2) Other measures

Other measures concern:

  • forests. The indicators must reach a positive trend,
  • planting another 3 billion trees,
  • restoration of at least 25.000 km of rivers which must become free-flowing,
  • urban green areas. Avoid any net loss compared to 2021, increase surfaces after 2030. (5)

3) The point of view of civil society

The goals of restoring natural ecosystems have been watered down during the political debate. A half victory for Sofie Ruysschaert, Nature Restoration Policy Officer for BirdLife Europe, according to whom 'the negotiations have not completely disappointed European citizens (..) but the real decisive test lies in seeing whether this law will really address the disconcerting repercussions of the climate and natural crisis'. (6)

'The restoration of ecosystems on 20% of the overall area is still below the 30% target agreed upon by the global community' at the Montreal Biodiversity Summit (2022). The downward agreementdemonstrates that it is not yet known that nature restoration can improve food production in the context of a transformation of the agricultural system'. (Josef Settle, entomologist at the Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research and former co-president of IPBES).

'While this deal is more ambitious than Parliament's weak position, it is still a far cry from what science tells us is needed to tackle climate and biodiversity emergencies'. (Sabien Leemans, WWF, biodiversity policy manager). (7)

4) Provisional conclusions

The European Union had the great opportunity to introduce innovative legislation to restore natural ecosystems, restore biodiversity and productivity to agricultural soils, (8) address the hidden costs of still unsustainable agri-food systems. (9)

A largely missed opportunity, due to the significant downsizing of the objectives and above all the failure to define both the measures to achieve them and the monitoring and enforcement tools.

The provision it will now be subjected to formal approval by the European Parliament and Council, in view of its publication in the Official Journal of the EU and entry into force in the following 20 days.

Dario Dongo and Alessandra Mei

Footnotes

(1) Dario Dongo. Nature Restoration Law, the European Parliament boycotts the restoration of biodiversity. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade).

(2) Dario Dongo, Alessandra Mei. Nature Restoration Law, the European Parliament approves the proposal. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade).

(3) Dario Dongo. Nature Restoration Law, reduction of pesticides. MEPs at the service of agro-industrial lobbies. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade).

(4) Dario Dongo, Andrea Adelmo Della Penna. World Bee Day, world bee day. No eligible policy. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade).

(5) European Parliament. EU Nature Restoration Law: MEPs strike deal to restore 20% of EU's land and sea. 9.11.2023 https://tinyurl.com/5d66ufeu

(6) BirdLife International. Nature Restoration Law on step closer to becoming reality – but with loopholes. 9.11.23 https://tinyurl.com/mr22v4sv

(7) Ajit Niranjan. EU strikes landmark deal on law to restore and protect nature. The Guardian. 10.11.23 https://tinyurl.com/46p2kmb2

(8) Gabriele Sapienza, Dario Dongo. Microbial biodiversity of soils in Europe, analyzes and perspectives. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade).

(9) Dario Dongo, Alessandra Mei. FAO, SOFI report 2023. The hidden costs of agri-food systems. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade).

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Dario Dongo, lawyer and journalist, PhD in international food law, founder of WIISE (FARE - GIFT - Food Times) and Égalité.

Alessandra Mei
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Graduated in Law from the University of Bologna, she attended the Master in Food Law at the same University. You participate in the WIISE srl benefit team by dedicating yourself to European and international research and innovation projects.

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