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MEPs pass Nature Restoration Law

At a plenary meeting of MEPs in Strasbourg at the end of February, the contentious Nature Restoration Law was passed by a majority of the Parliament including 11 of Irelands 13 MEPs. Here ICOS EU Affairs Manager of our Brussels office Damien O’Reilly summarizes what it means:

BACKGROUND

In June 2022, the EU Commission proposed a new law to restore ecosystems for people, the climate and the planet calling it the Nature Restoration Law. It is another bolt on element of the overarching EU Green Deal.

The European Commission’s proposal for a Nature Restoration Law is the first continent-wide, comprehensive law of its kind. It is a key element of the EU Biodiversity Strategy, which calls for binding targets to restore degraded ecosystems, in particular those with the most potential to capture and store carbon and to prevent and reduce the impact of natural disasters. Europe’s nature is in alarming decline, with more than 80% of habitats in poor condition.

The law will scale up existing experiences of nature restoration measures such as rewilding, returning trees, greening cities, and infrastructure, or removing pollution to allow nature to recover. Nature restoration does not equal nature protection and does not automatically lead to more protected areas.

ICOS EU Affairs manager Damien O’Reilly met with EU Commissioner for Financial Stability, Financial Services and Capital Markets. Damien outlined the issues and concerns farmers and co-operatives have in relation to current and upcoming EU policies which directly affect farmers and food producers and processors.

Objectives:

The proposal aims to restore ecosystems, habitats and species across the EU’s land and sea areas to:

  • enable the long-term and sustained recovery of biodiverse and resilient nature.
  • contribute to achieving the EU’s climate mitigation and climate adaptation objectives.
  • meet international commitments.

Targets:

The proposal combines an overarching restoration objective for the long-term recovery of nature in the EU’s land and sea areas with binding restoration targets for specific habitats and species. These measures should cover at least 20% of the EU’s land and sea areas by 2030, and ultimately all ecosystems in need of restoration by 2050.

The proposal contains the following specific targets relating to agricultural land:

  • agricultural ecosystems – increasing grassland butterflies and farmland birds, the stock of organic carbon in cropland mineral soils, and the share of agricultural land with high-diversity landscape features; restoring drained peatlands under agricultural use.

EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT VOTE

After almost two years of tense negotiations and amendments, the European Parliament (EP) adopted the Nature Restoration Lawon Tuesday February 27th last (as agreed with Member States), setting a target for the EU to restore at least 20% of its land & sea area by 2030. The 242- page legislation also requires EU countries to restore at least 30% of habitats in poor condition by 2030, 60% by 2040, & 90% by 2050. The new law was passed by 329 votes in favour, to 275 against, with 24 abstentions. 11 Irish MEPs voted in favour with 2 (Luke Ming Flanagan, Ind, and Chris MacManus, SF), voting against.

There is, however, a provision that allows measures for agricultural ecosystems to be suspended temporarily if “an unforeseeable, exceptional & unprovoked event has occurred that is outside the control of the Union, with severe Union-wide consequences for the availability of land required to secure sufficient agricultural production for Union food consumption.” The habitats it covers include forests, grasslands & wetlands, as well as rivers, lakes & coral beds.

The version adopted includes Parliament’s position that priority should be given to Natura 2000 sites until 2030. Once an area has been restored to good condition, countries will have a duty to ensure it does not significantly deteriorate. The new rules also include a requirement to adopt national restoration plans showing how they will achieve the targets. In agricultural ecosystems, the law calls for progress in two out of three indicators: the grassland butterfly index, the proportion of agricultural land with high-diversity landscape features, & the stock of organic carbon in cropland mineral soil.

The common farmland bird index must also be monitored, because birds serve as good indicators of overall biodiversity. Member States must restore at least 30% of drained wetlands by 2030, with at least a quarter rewetted, & 40% by 2040, & 50% by 2050, by which time at least a third must be rewetted. Rewetting will be voluntary for farmers & private landowners.

There is also an obligation to plant an additional three billion trees. Other obligations include the restoration of at least 25 000km of rivers to make them free flowing, & a requirement to ensure that there is no net loss in the total national area of urban green space & urban tree canopy cover.

Ireland:

Ireland will have to restore 30% of degraded habitats to good condition by 2030, rising to 60% by 2040 and 90% by 2050. It will require at least 30% of drained peatlands by 2030 with a quarter rewetted with the peatland targets increasing to 40% of such lands by 2040 and 50% by 2050 with at least a third rewetted.

After EU member states approve the law, Ireland will have 2 years to draft a national restoration plan outlining what methods will be put in place to meet those targets.

This will involve a public consultation and a stakeholder’s consultation which will happen in the coming months of which ICOS will be part of. There is no indication of how the roll out will be funded as no new money stream was announced for this. There are also questions about what constitutes turning a habitat from “poor” condition to “good” condition.

The Law must now get the qualified majority backing of EU Environment Ministers when they meet on Monday 25th March in Brussels. Going to press, there are some rumours that there are some countries intending to vote against which would mean a further setback. If it is agreed by Ministers, it will be published in the EU official journal and come into law 20 days later.

Copa-Cogeca response:

Copa and Cogeca worked hard on this file over the past 18 months and were successful in gaining some changes to the original text which had the potential to include private farmland. According to a statement from Copa-Cogeca; “What can be seen in the final text of the Nature Restoration Law can be seen as a success of the lobbying of the Secretariat and its members for what has been achieved for farmers, forest owners and its agri-cooperatives.”

  • Article 3.1 – 14bA definition of rewetting as opposed to restoration of wetlands was included after much lobbying to ensure that there could be a distinct difference between the two, especially regarding Article 9.
  • Article 4.1 – All restoration shall be obliged to be prioritised in Natura2000 areas over non-Natura2000 areas up until 2030.
  • Articles 4.6 & 4.7 – non-deterioration has been radically altered in the European Parliament, Council, and Commission opinions, reports, and trilogues. The final text means that non-deterioration is completely action based, and not result based. Now Member States shall “put in pace measures which shall aim to ensure that the areas” reach a good condition and Member States “shall put in place measures which shall aim to ensure that areas in which good condition has been reached, and in which the sufficient quality of the habitats of the species has been reached, do not significantly deteriorate”. A variation of the same changes is made in Article 4.7.
  • Article 9 – Restoration of Agricultural Ecosystems
    • 9.1 – Member States must now consider climate change, the social, and economic needs of rural areas, and the need to ensure sustainable agricultural production in the Union”.
    • 9.2 – Member States must now pick 2 out of 3 indicators, instead of a compulsory usage of a list of indicators which fluctuated greatly throughout the discussions. The final indicators are: grassland butterfly index, stock of organic carbon in cropland mineral soils, and share of agricultural land with high-diversity landscape features.
    • 9.3 – Member States shall put in place measures which shall aim to restore organic soils in agricultural use constituting drained peatlands.
      • The final targets for peatland restoration are as follows:
        • 30% of such areas by 2030, of which at least a quarter rewetted.
        • 40% of such areas by 2040, of which at least a third shall be rewetted (reduced from 50% and a half)
        • 50% of such areas by 2050, of which at least a third shall be rewetted (reduced from 70% and a half)
      • Member States can now reduce (if duly justified) the extent of this rewetting, if there is “significant negative impacts on infrastructure, buildings, climate adaptation or other public interests and if rewetting cannot take place on other land than agricultural land”.
      • The obligation for Member States to achieve rewetting targets, do not imply an obligation for farmers to rewet their land, for whom rewetting on agricultural land remains voluntary, without prejudice to obligations stemming from national law.
        • Likewise, the Member States shall, as appropriate, incentivise rewetting to make it an attractive option for farmers and private landowners etc.
  • Article 10 – Restoration of Forest Ecosystems
    • 10.2 – Member States now much pick six out of seven indicators for forest ecosystems: standing deadwood, lying deadwood, share of forests with uneven-aged structure, forest connectivity, stock of organic carbon, share of forests dominated by native tree species, tree species diversity.
    • Non-fulfilment is justified with large scale force majeure, including natural disasters unplanned and uncontrolled wildfire; and unavoidable habitat transformations which are directly caused by climate change.
  • Article 22a – Temporary suspension
    • In the event of an unforeseeable, exceptional, and unprovoked event has occurred that is outside the control of the EU, with severe EU wide consequences on the availability of land required to secure sufficient agricultural production for EU food consumption, the Commission shall adopt implementing acts which are both necessary and justifiable in an emergency. Such implementing acts may temporarily suspend the application of the relevant provisions of Article 9 (Agricultural ecosystem targets) of this Regulation to the extent and for such a period as is strictly necessary.
    • Implementing acts adopted under this provision shall remain in force for a period not exceeding twelve months. If after this period the specific problems referred to in paragraph a persist, the Commission may, to renew the period, submit an appropriate legislative proposal.
      • (This is a version of the text which Copa-Cogeca wished for a revision to the previous plenary text, which allowed for and was expanded to permitting procedures in Member States for building and housing, renewable energy projects, if the average food price has gone up by 10% over the period of one year, the total production of food has reduced by 5% over 1 year. Likewise, the timeline was for as long as these conditions persisted)

Next Steps:

  • Formation of the National Restoration Plans:
    • Member States shall prepare the plans. Quantify the area to be restored and consider the conditions of those habitats referenced in Article 4 and 5 (marine ecosystems).
    • The Commission shall adopt implementing acts to establish a uniform format for the national restoration plans. The draft implementing acts shall be submitted 3 months after the entry into force of the law.
    • Member States shall submit a draft of the national restoration plans, 24 months after entry into force of the law.
    • Assessment of the draft plans shall be within 6 months of receipt.
    • Review and revision of the plans shall take place before July 2032 and July 2042, and every 10 years thereafter. Member States shall publish and communicate to the Commission their revised national restoration plans.
    • Reporting shall take place every three years on all ecosystems and articles mentioned between Article 4 and 10.
    • By 12 months after implementation, the Commission shall submit a report to the Council and Parliament on the financial resources available at EU level for implementation, assessment of the funding needs, analyses of the identification of funding gaps, and where appropriate make proposals for adequate measures, including financial measures to address these gaps, such as the establishment of a dedicated funding instrument, in advance of the adoption of the MFF post 2027.
    • Review and evaluation of the actual implementation of this regulation shall take place by 31 December 2033.

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