Just over a year ago, on June 22, 2022, the European Commission presented a draft Nature Restoration Regulation – Nature Restoration Law. This project is a key component of the EU’s 2030 Biodiversity Strategy. The Nature Restoration Law is also one of the pillars of the European Green Deal and part of a long-term strategy to protect biodiversity in the EU. The regulation has become the subject of a fierce political battle, and just now – after months of tumultuous work – its future has been decided by the European Council and the European Parliament. The EU institutions have presented their proposals for change.
Assumptions of the draft regulation
Nature Restoration Law presented by the European Commission in June 2022. implies setting binding EU targets for:
- restore valuable natural habitats to good condition and restore those that occurred in the past;
- Restoring rivers to their natural state;
- Protection and restoration of biodiversity in forests and cities, as well as in marine and agricultural areas;
- pollinator protection.
The regulation aims to set a framework for achieving the stated goal of effectively restoring 20% of the European Union’s land and marine areas by 2030, and achieving full restoration of all ecosystems in need by 2050. The implementation of the regulation’s requirements means that many areas that are currently unprotected will have to return to as close to their natural state as possible.
We wrote about the Nature Restoration Law project and its ambitions in the article“EU RestorationLaw – change is coming.”
Position of the European Council and the European Parliament on the Nature Restoration Law
On June 20 and July 12, 2023. The European Council and the European Parliament have expressed their positions on the Nature Restoration Law. The two bodies have made decisions that form the basis for the start of the so-called “”new” government. trilogue, i.e. secret negotiations between representatives of Parliament, the Council and the European Commission. The discussions will result in a document for final approval.
The European Council, in its June 20 position, by a majority of 20 votes with 5 against (including Poland) and 2 not taking part in the vote, suggested a number of amendments to ease the requirements of the European Commission’s draft. In contrast, a motion to reject the project altogether failed to pass Parliament on July 12 by a narrow majority. At the same time, many amendments to the draft were adopted, resulting in the presentation of a highly revised version of the regulation. Given the votes of the European Council and the European Parliament, it is difficult to predict what the final outcome of the negotiations (trilogue) will be and what the final form of the Nature Restoration Law regulation will look like.
Commission proposals vs. changes suggested by the Council and Parliament
- Habitat restoration goals:
- Commission: implementation of measures to achieve good habitat status in each of the so-called “good habitats. habitat groups – 30% by 2030, 60% by 2040, 90% by 2050 (including outside Natura 2000 areas);
- Council: maintain 30% target by 2030, but only for specific habitat types;
- Parliament: obligation to implement measures leading to good habitat status only on land and only in Natura 2000 areas, without quantitative targets.
- Marine habitats:
- Council and Parliament: propose an additional exception for muddy, sandy and gravelly marine habitats and that the 2030 target. in this case did not apply, and subsequent targets were set by member countries.
- Protected species:
- Commission, Council and Parliament: agreed on the obligation to take action for sufficient quantity, quality and connectivity of habitats;
- Commission: has expressed a desire to add 25 marine species to protected species;
- Council and Parliament: proposed reducing the list by three species.
- Identify reference resources for specific habitat types and restore them:
- Commission and Council: by 2030. for 30% of the missing acreage, by 2040 for 60% of the missing acreage, by 2050 for 90% of the missing acreage of each habitat group;
- Parliament: obligation to reproduce, but without deadlines or quantitative targets.
- Habitat status:
- Commission: automatically deeming unrecognized habitats “poor condition.”
- Council and Parliament: abandon Commission proposal, propose mandatory status recognition of 90% of terrestrial habitat acreage by 2030, 100% by 2040 (marine habitats 50% by 2030, 100% by 2040; muddy, sandy and gravelly marine habitats 50% by 2040, 100% by 2050).
- Habitat deterioration:
- Commission: to ensure that the status of habitats and species affected is improving, the acreage of habitats in good condition is not decreasing;
- Advice: change to “does not decrease significantly.”
- Parliament: only wants to strive to ensure that the acreage of habitats in good condition does not decrease significantly.
- Deterioration of habitats outside Natura 2000 areas:
- Commission: general ban on deterioration outside Natura 2000 areas;
- Council: aiming for slight deterioration;
- Parliament: deletion of this provision.
- Exceptions to the prohibition on deterioration:
- Commission: concerns force majeure, i.e. climate change and the overriding public interest;
- Council and Parliament: add exception for renewable energy and national defense, with EU list as public interest;
- Parliament: additional exception for other public interest projects in special cases.
- Green spaces in cities:
- Commission: ban on reducing green space and canopy cover compared to 2021 status. Increasing green space by 2040. By 3%, and by 2050. – by 5% and the obligation to provide by 2050. At least 10% canopy cover;
- Council and Parliament: setting a reference year as the effective date of the regulation, excluding cities that already have more than 45% green space and more than 10% canopy cover.
- Water barriers:
- Commission: obligation to inventory barriers to the longitudinal and transverse continuity of surface water, include the need to remove unnecessary barriers in the national ecosystem restoration plan, remove them in accordance with the plan;
- Council and Parliament: duty only for artificial barriers. The removal of “longitudinal and transverse” raises questions about barriers between the river and floodplains.
- The goal of “restoring 25,000 in the EU. km of free-flowing rivers.”
- Council and Parliament: introducing a definition of “free-flowing river” that allows counting only sections, not entire rivers, which undermines the goal of restoration. However, they want to impose a requirement that the restored river connectivity be maintained.
- Reproducing pollinator populations:
- Commission: stop the decline by 2030, reverse to an upward trend, reviewed every 3 years;
- Council and Parliament: review every 6 years.
- Protection of agricultural landscapes and peatlands:
- Commission: obligation to implement appropriate conservation measures with specific targets to ensure an upward trend in indicators: the butterfly and farmland bird index and the amount of carbon in mineral agricultural soils. Implementation of measures to protect peatlands in agricultural use – by 2030. covering at least 30% of the acreage of such peatlands, of which ¼ with restored hydration; by 2040. – 50%, of which ½ with restored hydration; by 2050. – 70%;
- Council: liberalization of peatland targets (only 40% by 2040, 50% by 2050);
- Parliament: deletion of any provisions for agricultural land.
- Forest Protection:
- Commission: obligation to implement measures to ensure the upward trend of indicators: the amount of standing dead wood, the amount of lying dead wood, the share of forests with different age structure, the ecological connectivity of forests, the forest bird index, organic carbon stocks in forest soils;
- Council: flexibility in choosing indicators, excuses for not meeting targets by force majeure and climate change;
- Parliament: deletion of deadwood indicators and addition of tree planting obligation (3 billion trees not to be cut down).
- National ecosystem restoration plans:
- Commission: obligation to develop national ecosystem restoration plans within 2 years with a 2050 action perspective;
- Council and Parliament: national reconstruction plans with a 2032 outlook, with a strategic review for the period after 2032, and sequentially submit plans up to and beyond 2042, and plans up to 2050; taking into account specific national differences in the plans.
- Opportunity to challenge:
- Commission: allowing anyone with a legitimate interest to challenge national ecosystem restoration plans and actions of state bodies;
- Council and Parliament: delete these provisions in their entirety.
- Deferring implementation:
- Parliament: postponement of the implementation of the entire regulation due to socio-economic reasons, such as a decline in EU agricultural production of more than 5% or an increase in food prices of more than 10%.
The final shape of the Nature Restoration Law
Negotiations on the final form of the Nature Restoration Law regulation on nature restoration in the EU are extremely complex and full of differences. It is difficult to predict now what the final outcome of the trilateral talks will be, but one thing is certain – the topic of nature conservation requires finding compromise solutions that take into account the different interests and needs of individual member states. The trilateral talks are expected to take place this fall, and the EU’s draft Nature Restoration Law is expected to be completed in 2024.