Nature Restoration Law: positive impetus for the Green Deal

By Raphael Weyland
Raphael Weyland
Dr. Raphael Weyland is Nabu’s office manager in Brussels.

The proposal for the nature restoration law was originally planned for last November but was postponed several times due to pressure from the land user lobby, among others. The argument that we cannot afford to protect the environment in times of attack on Ukraine is wrong on several counts. In terms of time alone, a proposal that still has to go through the legislative process does not change the current circumstances. Moreover, the nature and climate crisis, unfortunately, continues unabated.

If we wanted to do something about food security, we should look at animal agriculture and the issue of biofuels. If we don’t start restoring ecosystems, the climate and nature crisis will hit even harder, threatening food security through soil erosion, missing pollinators, and more.

Regarding the Commission’s proposal, 15 percent of ecosystems were supposed to be restored to their natural state by 2020. Since the EU member states did not take sufficient measures, a more binding approach now follows. The fact that this is happening is very welcome. The proposed regulation represents the first major EU legislation for nature since the Habitats Directive came into force in 1992, apart from the Water Framework Directive relating to water bodies and the special invasive alien species regulation.

There is a need to improve the content of various parts of the proposal. For example, the measures planned for the agricultural landscape and for peatlands were weakened in the end. The enforceability of the proposal also leaves much to be desired.

Re-sharpening necessary

What does the proposed regulation provide for? First, Article 1, paragraph 2 contains an EU-wide target that renaturation measures should occur on 20 percent of the land by 2030. However, this target is not formulated in an enforcement-specific way. Articles 4 to 10 then contain time-bound sub-targets with renaturation targets for various ecosystems for the years 2030, 2040, and 2050. These are formulated partly in terms of area and partly in terms of measures.

In terms of impact, the sub-target applicable to terrestrial natural ecosystems is certainly among the most relevant. With regard to the sub-target for marine ecosystems, it should be clarified in the legislative process that the measures required to achieve the target can be implemented despite the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy. The requirement to restore a certain number of river kilometers is unclearly formulated.

The measures envisaged under the article for the agricultural landscape need to be tightened. This applies to species-rich landscape elements, for which the specific percentage figure has been deleted. The target of 10 percent at regional level contained in the EU biodiversity strategy should be decisive. The target for peatland restoration already does not include all former peatland areas. Moreover, the alternative regulation for peat cutting is particularly critical, as it could render the overall targets meaningless.

The last sub-goal relates to forest ecosystems and contains requirements for good practice – not protection – e.g., a certain proportion of deadwood. The targets are to be implemented through a national renaturation plan. In this respect, Germany must avoid mistakes from Natura 2000 implementation and aim for more effective control at the federal level from the outset – among other things, the planned action program for natural climate protection can provide suitable funding instruments.

Preliminary work on implementation should start promptly. Even if the EU regulation, which will then be directly applicable, is not expected to enter into force for another one to two years and the final details will not be known until then, basic questions can already be clarified now.

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