'Gruelling' EU negotiations lead to landmark Nature Restoration Law

'Gruelling' EU negotiations lead to landmark Nature Restoration Law
European Parliament in Brussels. Credit: Belga

The Environment Committee of the European Parliament voted to approve the landmark Nature Restoration Law (NRL) on Wednesday. The text was approved with 53 votes in favour, 28 against, and four abstentions.

The bill aims to protect nature by focusing on the restoration of Europe’s peatlands, rivers, forests and oceans. As it stands, 81% of EU land is in poor condition. The NRL legislates that EU countries must restore at least 20% of habitat areas in poor condition by 2030, 60% by 2040, and 90% by 2050. These are the first legally binding targets to restore ecosystems in the EU.

Advocates of the NRL have fought an uphill battle for months. The European People’s Party (EPP), the largest party in the Parliament, fiercely contested the bill alongside the far right, the right-wing European Conservatives and Reformists Group (ERC), and liberal party Renew. The opposition campaign came under intense scrutiny and was widely denounced for propagating misinformation and scaremongering.

In order to assuage the EPP's concerns about the impact the law will have on farmers and food security, an ‘emergency brake’ was introduced into the text, which allows targets for agricultural ecosystems to be let slip under exceptional circumstances; for instance if efforts to restore natural land threatened to reduce the availability of land for food production to the point that it would create severe EU-wide consequences.

Environmental victory

"Following some gruelling negotiations and a targeted campaign by conservative MEPs to block all climate and nature legislation, this is great news that the Committee has approved the agreement on Nature Restoration,” said Green MEP Grace O’Sullivan. "We are seeing biodiversity collapse in a generation. Nature restoration is one of the most powerful tools we have for turning that around."

Despite expressing dismay at the relentless watering down of the text, yesterday’s environmentalist groups receive yesterday’s achievement as a victory. “The Environment Committee has now shown its clear commitment to get this law ready before the next European elections,” a statement from the #RestoreNature coalition read. “However, it is still disappointing to see some MEPs not willing to protect Europe and its citizens from the devastating impacts of climate change and biodiversity loss. It is now up to the Parliament’s full house to follow suit and vote ‘yes’ on the Nature Restoration Law.”

The final vote on the text will take place in plenary in the New Year.

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