On 9 November 2023, the European Parliament and Council reached a political agreement on the Regulation on Nature Restoration, commonly known as the “Nature Restoration Law”. The Regulation aims to improve the state of nature by setting binding targets and obligations for a wide variety of land and sea ecosystems. The new rules are intended to help restore degraded ecosystems across Member States’ land and sea habitats, support EU goals for climate mitigation and adaptation, and strengthen food security.
The Regulation, which is the first legislation focusing on the restoration of EU nature, was proposed by the Commission on 22 June 2022. The Council agreed its negotiating position on the proposal on 20 June 2023. After heated discussions in the Parliament earlier this year, a negotiating position was adopted on 12 July 2023 with a very slim majority (however, a vote to reject the Commission’s proposal outright did not pass).
The compromise text of the Regulation has not been released yet, but according to press releases from the Parliament and the Council, it appears that significant concessions were made to accommodate the Parliament’s stance.
Nature restoration targets
The Nature Restoration Law sets an EU target to restore at least 20% of land and 20% of sea areas by 2030; all ecosystems must be restored by 2050.
To achieve these targets, Member States must restore at least 30% of habitat types listed in Annex I and II, which cover terrestrial, coastal and freshwater ecosystems such as wetlands, grasslands, forests, rivers, lakes, as well as marine ecosystems like seagrass and sponge and coral beds, to good condition by 2030. This should increase to 60% by 2040 and 90% by 2050. Flexibility is added for common and widespread habitats.
To accommodate the Parliament’s position, priority should be given until 2030 to areas located in Natura 2000 sites (over 27,000 nature sites protected under EU legislation) but this may risk no measures being implemented elsewhere until then.
The text also includes a requirement to prevent significant deterioration in areas that are in good condition or where habitats listed in Annexes I and II exist – though this is now effort-based rather than mandatory due to a compromise between the co-legislators.
Member States must adopt national restoration plans detailing how they plan to achieve these targets – a stepwise approach with first plans covering the period until June 2032, then until 2042 and then remaining period until 2050. The plans can consider diverse social, economic and cultural requirements, regional and local characteristics and population density in the Member States, including the specific situation of outermost regions.
Member States will need to implement measures to:
- achieve a positive trend in two of the following three indicators by the end of 2030 and every six years thereafter: the grassland butterfly index; the share of agricultural land with high-diversity landscape features; and the stock of organic carbon in cropland mineral soil;
- restore at least 30% of drained peatlands under agricultural use by 2030 (at least a quarter shall be rewetted), 40% by 2040 (at least one-third shall be rewetted) and 50% by 2050 (at least one-third shall be rewetted). Rewetting of drained peatlands helps to increase biodiversity and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. As a result of a compromise reached with the Parliament, rewetting will remain voluntary for farmers and private landowners. Also, Member States which are disproportionately impacted by these obligations will be able to apply a lower percentage;
- reverse the decline of pollinator populations by 2030 and thereafter achieve an increasing trend, measured at least every six years. The Commission will adopt delegated acts to establish a science-based method for monitoring pollinator diversity and populations.
The Law also sets targets to increase the common farmland bird index at a national level.
Member States will be required to implement measures to enhance the biodiversity of forest ecosystems and achieve increasing trends at the national level of certain indicators, such as standing and lying deadwood and the common forest bird index, by 2030.
A provision was added urging Member States to contribute to planting at least three billion additional trees in the EU by 2030. EU countries must also ensure that by 2030 there is no net loss in the total national area of urban green space, and of urban tree canopy cover in urban ecosystem areas compared to 2021. After 2030, they must increase this, with progress measured every six years.
The Law also requires Member States to identify and remove man-made barriers to the connectivity of surface waters, aiming to turn at least 25,000 km of rivers into free-flowing rivers by 2030, and maintain restored natural river connectivity.
One year after the Regulation comes into force, the Commission must submit a report on the financial resources available at the EU level and identify any funding gaps. If appropriate, the report would also include proposals for adequate funding.
The agreed text also clarifies that national restoration plans do not require countries to re-programme the common agricultural policy (CAP) or the common fisheries policy (CFP) funding under the 2021-2027 MFF (multiannual financial framework) in order to implement the Regulation. The absence of clear funding mechanisms was pointed out by critics of the final Regulation.
A significant comprise reached by the Council and Parliament is the possibility to suspend the implementation of those provisions of the Regulation related to agricultural ecosystems for up to one year in the event of unforeseeable and exceptional events outside of the EU’s control that could severely impact EU-wide food security.
The provisional agreement will now need to be formally adopted by the Parliament and the Council before it can be published in the Official Journal of the EU and enter into force 20 days later.
The Regulation is a key element of the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 which is part of the European Green Deal.
According to the Council statement, it will also help the EU meet its international commitments, in particular the UN Kunming-Montreal global biodiversity framework agreed at the 2022 UN biodiversity conference (COP15) (see our previous blog post).
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