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How Europe’s Nature Restoration Law aims to rebuild ecosystems

Earlier in June, the European Council formally adopted the groundbreaking regulation on nature restoration. This historic law arrives just before the summer season, which in recent years has underscored our vulnerability to climate change-related threats such as droughts, wildfires and flooding.

The much-anticipated Nature Restoration Law aims to restore at least 20 per cent of the EU’s land and sea areas by 2030, with an ambitious goal of restoring all ecosystems in need by 2050. It establishes specific, legally binding targets and obligations for nature restoration across various ecosystems, including terrestrial, marine, freshwater and urban environments.

“There is no time for a break in protecting our environment,” said Alain Maron, Minister for Climate Transition, Environment, Energy and Participatory Democracy of the Government of the Brussels-Capital Region. “It is our duty to respond to the urgency of the collapse of biodiversity in Europe, but also to enable the European Union to meet its international commitments.”

“It is a massive victory for Europe’s nature and citizens who have been long calling for immediate action to tackle nature’s alarming decline,” commented the #RestoreNature coalition, consisting of BirdLife Europe, ClientEarth, EEB and WWF EU. “After years of intense campaigning and many ups and downs, we are jubilant that this law is now a reality […]. Now, we need all hands on deck: Member States must properly implement this legislation without delay in their countries, in close collaboration with all involved stakeholders.”

Nature Restoration Law could transform the Czech forest landscape

In May, eleven EU Member States, led by Ireland, signed a call to adopt the Nature Restoration Law and urged other member states to follow suit. Among the most enthusiastic signatories was the Czech Republic, driven by a vested interest in the law’s success.

Indeed, in the Czech Republic, forests cover 34 per cent of the country’s territory, with almost a quarter of this forest area comprising natural forest habitats defined by the Habitats Catalogue. Many of these habitats are in poor condition, unable to support viable populations of species reliant on them. The Nature Restoration Law aims to transform this situation.

At least 30 per cent of habitats deemed in poor condition must be restored by 2030, with this percentage going up to at least 60 per cent by 2040 and 90 per cent by 2050.

However, by restoring natural habitats, a huge impact will be seen at the forest management level. In this regard, the Czech Ministry of Environment assured that a fundamental change in forest management does not mean a complete cessation of the economic use of forests. The shift in forestry practices should focus on protecting so-called biological heritage — structures of old forests — and maintaining the variability of natural conditions. “Within nature restoration of forest habitats, biological heritage protection should become a natural part of management in a significant part of ordinary commercial forests and not just a prerogative of commercial forests in protected areas,” the Ministry stated. “This approach aims to integrate biodiversity conservation into broader forest management practices, balancing ecological and economic interests.”

The importance of national restoration plans

Under the new regulations, Member States must develop and submit national restoration plans to the European Commission, detailing how they will achieve the set targets. The Czech Ministry of Environment highlighted the importance of these plans. “The so-called national restoration plans for nature, based on the results of research and preparatory monitoring, will determine the areas that need to be restored in order to halt the decline in biodiversity and meet other Nature Restoration Law objectives,” read the press statement.

“If we manage to create a functional network of forest habitats at the landscape (or even regional) level, open to natural disturbances and more complete food chains (including large herbivores and their predators), we may be surprised at how much in protecting specific open forest habitats from overgrowth is done by nature itself,” continued the statement. “Nature conservation efforts could then be more concentrated on small sites isolated in the cultural landscape, which would remain outside the reach of the beneficial effects of restored forest ecosystems.”

Political challenges

Despite the law’s promising goals, its approval faced significant challenges. Several countries, particularly Hungary and Poland, did not support the law. Nevertheless, a recent poll revealed that 83 per cent of Hungarians and 72 per cent of Poles were in favour of the legislation.

“The Nature Restoration Law (NRL) became a symbolic target of even the European People Party’s (EPP) group during the European Parliamentary election campaign period since last year when lawmakers weighed which part of the Green Deal could be brought down,” comments Botond Feledy, Brussels-based foreign policy expert. “While many other legislative items were adopted, the NRL was singled out mainly due to the farmers’ protest movement growing in significance all through last fall to spring 2024.”

“While it has always been one of the pillars of the Green Deal package – over 50 different laws – it fell victim to the narrative factories,” Mr Botond tells CEENERGYNEWS. “Moderate conservative parties across the EU, especially in Germany and Spain, also got worried after the electoral success of the Dutch BBB farmers’ party, that they have to act visibly in the interest of the agrarian sector. In Poland, Hungary and Slovakia, in given weeks, the international border crossings to Ukraine were blocked by farmers: those governments then sought to mitigate their concerns by symbolically stopping NRL.”

However, some fear that its adoption will unlikely please the EU farmers’ association Copa-Cogeca, which has waged a sustained campaign against the law which, according to the association “will cause legal battles at regional, national and European levels, with the future unclear as to how or when this law will be implemented.”

“The question of the lack of clear and consistent funding for ecosystem restoration across the EU remains unanswered,” read a press statement. “This comes just weeks after the European elections, in which agriculture played a particular role in the discussion. This will be the first sign to farmers and forest owners of the intentions of their national governments and the next Commission.”

Overall, it is impossible to argue that the Nature Restoration Law represents a significant step forward in addressing the urgent environmental challenges facing the EU. By setting legally binding targets and requiring comprehensive national restoration plans, the law aims to halt and reverse biodiversity loss, benefiting both nature and society. As Member States begin to implement these ambitious plans, collaboration and commitment will be crucial to ensuring the law’s success and securing a sustainable future for Europe’s ecosystems.

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