The Nature Restoration law, a key part of the EU’s Green Deal, aims at rewilding one-fifth of the bloc’s land and sea habitats starting this decade.
MEPs in Strasbourg on Wednesday approved the Nature Restoration Law, a landmark legal proposal to restore the EU’s rapidly degrading ecosystems and reverse habitats’ decline, despite strong political backlash from centre-right lawmakers.
The long-awaited law includes binding restoration targets for both land and marine habitats and species with an interim target to restore at least 20% of the European Union’s land and sea areas – including wetlands, forests, grasslands, rivers and lakes, rocky habitats, and dunes – by the end of the current decade and ultimately all degraded ecosystems by 2050. According to EU data, more than 80% of the bloc’s habitats are classified as being in poor health.
To reach the ambitious targets, the EU will adopt a long series of measures, including steps to cut pesticide use by 50%, protect green urban spaces and ensure at least 10% of green spaces in cities, as well as reverse the decline of severely endangered pollinator populations by 2030.
Member countries will have to submit national strategies to the Commission within two years of the law coming into force, outlining how they plan to deliver on the targets. They will also be required to monitor and report on their progress.
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Manfred Weber, head of the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) – European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen’s own party – and the farming lobby campaigned to kill the Nature Restoration Law, arguing that it would compromise food security, put many farmers out of business, and prevent the construction of offshore wind projects. In Wednesday’s vote, however, the group failed to secure a majority after 15 of its MEPs voted against rejecting the bill and five abstained.
Weber called Wednesday’s vote an “empty win”, adding that “we can only be successful on the green deal if we unify, this is obviously not the case with this bad piece of legislation.”
Speaking to the Parliament after the vote, MEP Esther de Lange – a member of the Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA), which is part of the EPP – said that their attempt to block the “incredibly vague” law was “not about watering it down” but rather “making sure that legislation actually works on the ground.”
“We need this Green Deal not to stop people or to tell people what they can no longer do, we need a Green Deal that unites citizens in Europe, that enables activities and a transition and that actually protects,” she added.
Supporters of the bill stressed that the draft law does not impose the creation of new protected areas within EU borders and added a new article that guarantees the new law will not interfere with new renewable energy infrastructure projects.
“We have won. It is a social victory: for scientists, for young people, for a lot of companies and businesses, for the agricultural sector,” Cesar Luena, the parliament’s lead negotiator on the law, told reporters after the vote, thanking the scientists and hundreds of young people who gathered in Strasbourg to support the bill. Among them was Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, who spoke outside the parliament on Wednesday.
“Our message to the politicians is to choose nature, choose people over profit and greed. We urge them to not reject this law but to vote for the strongest law possible,” the activist said. “Anything else will be seen for exactly what it is, a betrayal both to those suffering the most from these crises, to future generations, but also to humanity.”
The new law brings the EU closer to its international commitments on biodiversity, in particular the UN Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity framework adopted at COP15 earlier this year, which includes an ambitious plan to protect at least 30% of the world’s land, inland waters, coastal areas, and oceans by 2030.
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