On the 9th of November negotiators from the EU Parliament and Council reached a provisional agreement on the EU nature restoration law. It was decided that EU countries must restore at least 30% of habitat areas in poor condition by 2030, 60% by 2040, and 90% by 2050.
The targets proposed include:
- Reversing the decline of pollinator populations by 2030 and increasing their populations from there on.
- In agricultural ecosystems, overall increase of biodiversity, and a positive trend for grassland butterflies, farmland birds, organic carbon in cropland mineral soils and high-diversity landscape features on agricultural land.
- Restoration and rewetting of drained peatlands under agricultural use and in peat extraction sites.
- In forest ecosystems, overall increase of biodiversity and a positive trend for forest connectivity, deadwood, share of uneven-aged forests, forest birds and stock of organic carbon.
- Restoring marine habitats such as seagrasses or sediment bottoms, and restoring the habitats of iconic marine species such as dolphins and porpoises, sharks and seabirds.
- Removing river barriers so that at least 25,000 km of rivers would be turned into free-flowing rivers by 2030.
Member states will have to adopt national restoration plans detailing how they intend to achieve these targets.
Restoring drained peatlands is one of the most cost-effective measures to reduce emissions in the agricultural sector and improve biodiversity. EU countries must therefore put in place restoration measures for organic soils in agricultural use constituting drained peatlands on at least 30% of such areas 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 will remain voluntary for farmers and private landowners.
By 2030, EU countries will have to put in place measures with the aim to achieve a positive trend in several indicators in forest ecosystems. At the same time, an additional three billion trees must also be planted in the EU.
The legislation was strongly opposed by farmers and elements of the package were scaled back. The Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) warned that it would impact Irish food production and accused member states of “walking blindly into these targets without fully understanding the consequences”.
Irish MEP Mick Wallace said: “The final text is something we should all support, though regrettably it also drags down the overall ambition of this important legislation.” He said the law had a lot of potential, but it was dragged through the mud as part of right-wing political campaigning, primarily from the European People’s Party, of which Fine Gael is a member. “It means we will need more nature legislation going forward as it will not be enough to halt the biodiversity crisis”, Wallace said.
The deal has been broadly welcomed by environmental groups. Green MEP for Ireland South Grace O’Sullivan welcomed the agreement. “Over 80 per cent of Europe’s natural habitats are in poor shape, and Ireland unfortunately ranks as one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world following hundreds of years of colonisation, deforestation, intensive agriculture and human interference,” she said.
Ireland’s Minister for Nature and Heritage Malcolm Noonan said the proposals had succeeded in passing “yet another milestone on its perilous journey to become law”.
The agreement must now be adopted by the European Council and the European Parliament before coming into force.