The Law on Nature Restoration originates from an extensive consultative phase between the European Commission and various stakeholders, following the publication of the European Biodiversity Strategy 2030 in 2021. The preceding strategy had achieved modest results: a staggering 81% of European habitats were in decline, and only 27% of animal and plant species had a satisfactory conservation status. Presently, European nature is governed by two pivotal legislative instruments: the Habitats Directive and the Birds Directive, safeguarding over 460 species of wild birds, 1,389 animal and plant species, and 233 types of habitats considered of community importance.
The Law on Nature Restoration operates within the framework of these two directives but goes beyond by imposing the obligation to restore what has been compromised. This law garnered approval with 336 votes in favor, 300 against, and 13 abstentions, marking it as the inaugural law concerning nature proposed and ratified by the European continent.
This legislation regarding the restoration of natural environments forms an integral component of the “Nature Package,” adopted on June 22, 2022. This package endeavors to establish legally binding objectives for EU member states, with the ambitious aim of restoring a minimum of 20% of the EU’s terrestrial and marine areas by 2030. This initiative also extends to the restoration of 15% of rivers in their entirety and the creation of high-biodiversity landscape features on at least 10% of agricultural land.
This ambitious project encompasses not only protected areas but also encompasses all ecosystems, including agricultural lands and urban areas.
The European legislation on habitat restoration signifies a pivotal starting point for one of the three pillars of the European Sustainability Plan, known as the “European Green Deal.” This plan aspires to reshape the entirety of the European economy through the transition to sustainable energy sources, biodiversity preservation, and the promotion of a circular economy.
The significance of this legislative proposal lies in its ambition to address the global challenges of climate change and biodiversity loss. According to the assessment by the European Environment Agency, nature in Europe is undergoing a critical decline, with numerous species and habitats in precarious conditions. This law seeks to reverse this trend through legally binding objectives, including the restoration of diverse habitats and the enhancement of conditions for wildlife.
Furthermore, the legislation establishes specific goals for the restoration of habitats and species, such as the improvement and restoration of diverse habitats, the reversal of the decline in pollinator insect populations by 2030, and the restoration of marine and river ecosystems. It also includes plans to remove barriers obstructing watercourse connectivity, with the aim of restoring at least 25,000 km of free-flowing rivers by 2030.
In conclusion, the legislation concerning the restoration of natural environments constitutes a significant stride towards environmental safeguarding and climate change mitigation. Its ambitious objective of reviving deteriorated ecosystems in Europe represents a fundamental commitment to ensuring a sustainable future for the continent and forthcoming generations. Collaboration among member states and active participation from civil society will be indispensable for the success of this momentous initiative.
The legislation includes the following specific objectives:
- Pollinator Insects: Reverse the decline of pollinator insect populations by 2030 and achieve an increasing trend in pollinator insect populations, with a methodology for regular monitoring of pollinators.
- Forest Ecosystems: Achieve an increasing trend in the presence of standing and fallen deadwood, forests of various ages, forest connectivity, the abundance of common forest birds, and the accumulation of organic carbon.
- Urban Ecosystems: Strike a balance between the net loss of urban green spaces by 2030 and an increase in the total area covered by urban green spaces by 2040 and 2050.
- Agricultural Ecosystems: Increase populations of grassland butterflies and farmland birds, organic carbon reserves in cultivated mineral soils, and the proportion of agricultural lands with high-diversity landscape features; restore drained peatlands for agricultural use.
- Marine Ecosystems: Restore marine habitats such as seagrass meadows or sedimentary seabeds that provide significant benefits, including climate change mitigation, and restore habitats of iconic marine species such as dolphins and porpoises, sharks, and seabirds.
- River Connectivity: Identify and remove barriers that impede the connectivity of surface waters so that at least 25,000 km of rivers are restored to a free-flowing state by 2030.