Understanding the New Nature Restoration Law: Key Dates, Reversals, and Benefits 

Nature Restoration Law

In the next few decades, the nature restoration law intends to rehabilitate the ecosystems that have been destroyed across the European Union. The final voting on the bill took place amid demonstrations from farmers all around the European Union (EU), which resulted in the retreat of some environmental goals.  

The vast majority of demonstrations that took place in more than twelve Member States were concerned with issues pertaining to biodiversity and conservation (for example, the proposed law for nature restoration and restrictions on fertilizer), as well as climate and emissions (for example, increased compensation for losses caused by natural disasters and diseases and improved infrastructure for protection against extreme weather).  

Among the most notable rollbacks was the abandonment of the European Union’s intentions to reduce the use of pesticides, as well as the elimination of the requirement that agriculture must reduce emissions of non-CO2 gases by 30% with respect to 2015 (with the ultimate overall objective being to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 90% by the year 2040).  

More than 110,000 people, including organizations, responded to an online public consultation on the proposal in early 2021. The results showed overwhelming support for legally binding targets, with 97% of respondents in favor of general EU restoration targets across all ecosystems. The law passed through a final parliament vote on February 20, 2024, with 329 votes in favor, 275 against, and 24 abstentions.

After this vote, MEP Cesar Luena stated that “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 fulfill 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 neither planet B nor plan B.” 

For the legislation to pass, the next step was for the council of the European Union to give its approval to the law. Late March was the time when the council vote was supposed to take place; however, it was postponed indefinitely after several Member States signaled that they would no longer support its eventual ratification.

The ministers in the European Union council finally approved the law after a protracted period of inactivity that lasted for many months. In essence, the law was approved because of a sudden change of heart on the part of Austria’s Green Environment Minister, Leonore Gewessler. This caused a great deal of outrage in Austria, with the chancellor, Karl Nehammer, saying that he would pursue criminal charges against her for suspected misuse of authority.

In general, and up until the very last minute, it was not obvious if those who supported the proposal had amassed sufficient votes to establish a qualified majority of 55% of member states, which would have represented at least 65% of the population of the EU. With a razor-thin majority, environment ministers voted the measure through, largely because Slovakia and Austria had changed their minds about the law, which allowed them to cross the threshold by 1.07% points.  

A total of twenty nations cast their votes in support of the proposal, while Finland, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, and Sweden cast their votes against it, and Belgium chose to abstain. The cost of implementation and the excessive number of administrative obligations that they were required to bear were the primary causes of their concerns and criticisms.  

Why the Law was Required 

The Nature Restoration Law was developed since more than 80% of European habitats are in poor shape. This was evident in the “State of Nature in the EU: Results from Reporting Under the Nature Directives 2013-2018” report that was published in 2020 by the EEA (European Environment Agency). At the same time, 71% of fish and 60% of amphibian populations have suffered a decline, up to 70% of EU soils are in an unhealthy condition (contributing to an annual loss of agricultural productivity of EUR 1.25 billion), and 1 in 3 bee and butterfly species in the EU are in decline (and 1 in 10 of these species is on the verge of extinction).  

The Commission suggested a nature restoration law back in 2022 in response to this report and the overall disturbing facts about the status of ecosystems in the EU. The purpose of this law was to contribute to the long-term restoration of damaged environments throughout the land and marine territories of the European Union. Specifically, the Nature Restoration Law will: 

  1. Restore at least 20% of habitats covered by the new law (forests, grasslands, wetlands, lakes, and coral beds) from poor to good condition by 2030 (about 1.26 mi), increasing to 60% by 2040, and 90% by 2050. In line with the EU’s position, priority should be given to Natura 2000 areas until 2030. Once in good condition, Member States shall ensure an area does not significantly deteriorate. 
  1. Require member states to develop National Restoration Plans taking account of national conditions. 
  1. Demonstrate EU leadership in protecting and restoring nature and set the bar for global action ahead of the Biodiversity COP15.  

To improve biodiversity in agricultural ecosystems, Member States will have to make progress in two of the following three indicators:  

Critics point the finger at the elements that have been watered down with WWF writing that “it is disappointing to see that many exemptions included, and the excessive flexibility regarding obligations for Member States.”. 

Ioannis Agapakis, a Nature Conservation lawyer at ClientEarth, also cautiously welcomed the text. “We finally have a much-needed law that, in theory, would force the EU to take concrete action to restore its ailing nature. However, negotiations have hollowed out the law to the point that it risks being toothless in practice and prone to abuse. The numerous exemptions and lack of legal safeguards have set a very frightening precedent for EU law-making, rather than cementing the EI at the forefront of biodiversity conservation.” 

By restoring nature, the European Union (EU) has made it abundantly clear that there are multiple significant benefits across the economy, the environment, and society. These benefits include the fact that every euro spent on land restoration brings an economic return of 8 to 38 euros, and that urban green areas provide essential temperature reduction, absorb excess rainfall, and support both physical and mental well-being.  

Additionally, compared to any type of human-made infrastructure, natural rivers, floodplains, and wetland areas can absorb floods more effectively and at a lower cost. Peatlands, on the other hand, are responsible for storing roughly thirty percent of the world’s soil carbon. Restoring peatlands that have been drained might prevent up to 25 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions that are caused by land in Europe. 

Overall, restoring nature and the species they host will increase biodiversity and secure the things nature does for free (like cleaning water and air, pollinating crops, and flood protection). It will aid in achieving the global goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 °C. And it will assist in building up Europe’s resilience and strategic autonomy, preventing natural disasters and reducing risks to food security.  

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