Wilderness Policy

Nature Restoration Law: A new dawn for European biodiversity?

Despite facing strong opposition, particularly from the European People’s Party, the European Parliament on 17th of June 2024 passed a draft legal framework for nature restoration. This law aims to address the biodiversity crisis, which is as critical as the climate crisis. Nature conservation alone is insufficient to preserve biodiversity; restoration of disturbed ecosystems is essential to bring nature back and strengthen resilience against climate change. The newly approved Nature Restoration Law, also known as the European law for nature restoration, reflects this necessity.

The law received majority support from the European Parliament, signaling a strong commitment to restoring natural ecosystems, enhancing biodiversity, and combating climate change. However, the law was weakened by several amendments during the legislative process. Countries like Austria, Belgium, Finland, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Sweden, and Hungary initially signaled intentions to abstain or oppose the law. A last-minute change by Austria enabled the law’s passage. Austrian climate minister Leonor Gewessler emphasized the law’s importance in combating climate change and ensuring legal certainty for land use during the debate.

This legal framework is part of the broader legislative measures related to the European Green Deal. The European Commission, which drafted the regulation, aims to revitalize degraded ecosystems and ensure the return of nature and biodiversity across various landscapes, from agricultural fields and forests to marine environments and urban areas.

The European Commission’s goals include restoring ecosystems on at least 20% of European land and sea areas by 2030 and significantly restoring most damaged ecosystems by 2050. Key measures involve restoring wetlands, promoting close-to-nature agriculture and forestry, urban greening, and limiting the use of pesticides and pollutants. The nature restoration law has strong support from both the European Commission and the international scientific community. It aligns with conclusions from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and other scientific institutions addressing the biodiversity and climate crises.

Data from the European Commission indicates that 81% of EU ecosystems are damaged. The alarming decline in pollinators, such as bees and butterflies (for ex. Parnassius apollo), highlights the severity of the situation. A study by the World Wide Fund for Nature reveals a 69% decline in animal populations from 1970 to 2018, with Latin America experiencing a 94% decline. The law includes provisions to address biodiversity loss, such as restoring natural riverbeds and floodplains. Modifications to river flows, straightening, and large infrastructural constructions currently hinder fish reproduction, sediment movement, and water retention in landscapes.

The European People’s Party’s opposition sparked widespread protests from civil and scientific communities. The #RestoreNature campaign saw over a million EU citizens sending letters of protest to MEPs, highlighting the benefits of the framework for local communities, biodiversity, and climate. A group of 6,000 scientists published an open letter rejecting unfounded criticisms of the legal framework. They emphasized that ecosystem restoration has proven effective in maintaining and even increasing fisheries yields by providing recovery areas for fish and invertebrate populations.

Advocates argue for the long-term benefits of the legal framework. As intensive farming methods and large monocultures become unsustainable due to climate change, the framework provides a crucial path forward. NASA studies and the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report warn of the catastrophic links between the climate crisis and declining agricultural yields.

Virginijus Sinkevičius, commissioner for the environment, oceans, and fisheries, summed up the sentiment: “Let’s put ideology behind us and get to work all together. The time for political and ideological discussion is over; now let’s get on with the job.” The Nature Restoration Law marks a significant step towards a sustainable and biodiverse future for Europe.

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