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By Allen Campbell

February 228, 2024

On Tuesday, February 28th, the European Parliament voted, by a narrow margin, to adopt the Nature Restoration Law. Enacted against a backdrop of concern that natural places have been degraded, the core concept of the law is that protecting remaining natural places will not be sufficient; also needed is large-scale restoration. The goal of the law is to rehabilitate at least 20% of the EU’s land and sea areas by 2030 and all degraded ecosystems by 2050. It establishes obligations and targets on different fields of action, such as farmlands, pollinators, rivers, forests and urban areas, to gradually reverse the environmental damage caused by climate change and unchecked human activity.

This law is a significant victory for the environment and an indicator of political sentiment, as conservatives and farmers have mounted a fierce campaign of opposition.

As part of the political process, the law must now be adopted by the European Council, before being published in the EU Official Journal and entering into force 20 days later.

Why is this law needed?

The world’s natural environment has been badly degraded. In the EU, 81% of protected habitats and 63% of species have a poor or bad conservation status.

Ecosystem restoration is on the global agenda. We are in the UN decade on ecosystem restoration (2021-2030).

That has implications for climate change. The 6th Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says that restoring nature is a key part of the solution to mitigate and adapt to climate change, and meet climate targets.

Biodiversity is a major consideration here. One million species are threatened with extinction. European The new EU law will be a key element of the EU Biodiversity Strategy, which calls for binding targets to restore degraded ecosystems, especially those most able to capture and store carbon and to prevent and reduce the impact of natural disasters. Biodiversity has been declining at an alarming rate, with 57% of Atlantic marine habitats, and 75% and 40% of Baltic marine species and  40% of Mediterranean marine species in bad condition.

Key provisions of the law:

The new law sets a target for the EU to restore

  • at least 20% of the EU’s land and sea areas by 2030, and
  • all ecosystems in need of restoration by 2050.

Other ecosystems covered by the law include forests, grasslands, and wetlands, as well as rivers, lakes and coral beds.

To reach the overall EU targets, member states must restore at least 30% of habitats covered by the new law (from forests, grasslands and wetlands to rivers, lakes and coral beds) from a poor to a good condition by 2030, increasing to 60% by 2040, and 90% by 2050. In line with Parliament’s position, EU member states  should give priority to Natura 2000 areas until 2030. Once an area is restored to good condition, member states are to ensure that it does not significantly deteriorate. Member states will also have to adopt national restoration plans detailing how they intend to achieve these targets.

Agriculture ecosystems

To improve biodiversity in agricultural ecosystems, EU countries will have to make progress in two of the following three indicators: the grassland butterfly index; the share of agricultural land with high-diversity landscape features; the stock of organic carbon in cropland mineral soil. Measures to increase the common farmland bird index are to be taken, as birds are good general indicators of overall biodiversity.

Restoring drained peatlands is one of the most cost-effective ways to reduce emissions in the agricultural sector. Therefore, EU countries are to restore at least 30% of drained peatlands by 2030 (at least a quarter shall be rewetted), 40% by 2040 and 50% by 2050 (where at least one-third shall be rewetted). Rewetting will remain voluntary for farmers and private landowners.

Agriculture is a sensitive industry here. Targets for agricultural ecosystems can be suspended under exceptional circumstances if they severely reduce the land needed for sufficient food production for EU consumption.

Other ecosystems

The law also requires improvement in several indicators in forest ecosystems and three billion trees to be planted. Member states will also have to restore at least 25,000 km of rivers into free-flowing rivers and ensure there is no net loss in the total national area of urban green space and of urban tree canopy cover.

Why This matters to businesses

Setting direction and strategy are important duties for corporate directors and CEOs.

Although this new law does directly subject companies to new duties or prohibitions, it sets new parameters for the ecosystem in which businesses operate.

Companies will be wise to develop strategy accordingly.