Natural Thirst Inspires Global First: a Law Restoring Nature

forest Germany

BRUSSELS, Belgium, June 27, 2022 (ENS) – The European Commission has adopted proposals for its first Nature Restoration Law so that the damaged ecosystems across 80 percent of Europe can be revitalized – from forests to seas, agricultural lands to streams, and even city parks.

The Commission is proposing the first legislation that explicitly targets the restoration of Europe’s natural areas, to repair what the Commission admits are the “80 percent of European habitats that are in poor condition,” and to bring back nature to all EU ecosystems.

Under the proposed law, legally binding targets for nature restoration across different ecosystems would apply to all 27 EU Member States, complementing existing laws.

The new law builds on existing legislation, but covers all ecosystems rather than being limited to the Habitats Directive and Natura 2000 protected areas, aiming to put all natural and semi-natural ecosystems on the path to recovery by 2030.

The aim is to cover at least 20 percent of the EU’s land and sea areas by 2030 with nature restoration measures, and eventually extend these to all ecosystems in need of restoration by 2050.

Ecosystems with the greatest potential for removing and storing carbon and preventing or reducing the impact of natural disasters such as floods would be the top priorities.

If passed, the law will benefit from substantial EU funding. Under the current Multiannual Financial Framework, around €100 billion will be available for biodiversity spending, including restoration.

Conservationists welcomed the proposal and said they would work with Parliament to make it even better. “The restoration law is a huge opportunity to bring nature back before the climate and biodiversity crises spiral completely out of control. Restoration of ecosystems like peatlands, forests and seagrass meadows can help reduce emissions and sequester millions of tonnes of carbon each year,” said Sabien Leemans, senior biodiversity policy officer with WWF, Europe.

Pesticides on the Way Out

The Commission is also determined to reduce the “use and risk” of chemical pesticides by 50 percent by 2030.

“It is time to change course on how we use pesticides in the EU,” said Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, Stella Kyriakides. “This is about the health of our citizens and our planet. Through this proposal, we are delivering on our citizens’ expectations and on our commitments in the Farm to Fork Strategy to build a more sustainable and healthy food production system. We need to reduce the use of chemical pesticides to protect our soil, air and food, and ultimately the health of our citizens.”

“For the first time, we will ban the use of pesticides in public gardens and playgrounds, ensuring that we are all far less exposed in our daily lives,” Kyriakides said, assuring farmers, “The Common Agricultural Policy will support farmers financially to cover all costs of the new rules for a period of five years. No one will be left behind.”

The Commission says it will propose, for the first time, a measure that follows up on its commitment to take account of global environmental considerations when deciding on maximum pesticide residue levels in food.

The Commission announced it will soon consult Member States and third countries on a measure reducing to zero the residues of thiamethoxam and clothianidin, two substances no longer approved in the EU that are known to contribute to the worldwide decline of pollinators.

These legislative proposals follow the Biodiversity and Farm to Fork Strategies, and will help ensure the resilience and security of food supply in the European Union and across the world, the Commission said in a statement Friday.

Executive Vice-President for the European Green Deal, Frans Timmermans, said, “We humans depend on nature. For the air we breathe, for the water we drink, for the food we eat – for life. Our economy also runs on nature. The climate and biodiversity crises are threatening the very foundation of our life on Earth.”

“We have been making progress on tackling the climate crisis, and today we add two laws that represent a massive step forward in tackling the looming ecocide. When we restore nature, we allow it to continue providing clean air, water, and food, and we enable it to shield us from the worst of the climate crisis. Reducing pesticide use likewise helps nature recover, and protects the humans who work with these chemicals,” Timmermans said.

The proposal for a Nature Restoration Law is a key step in avoiding ecosystem collapse and preventing the worst impacts of climate change and biodiversity loss, the Commission explained, saying, “Restoring EU wetlands, rivers, forests, grasslands, marine ecosystems, urban environments and the species they host is a crucial and cost-effective investment: into our food security, climate resilience, health, and well-being.”

“In the same vein, the new rules on chemical pesticides will reduce the environmental footprint of the EU’s food system, protect the health and well-being of citizens and agricultural workers, and help mitigate the economic losses that we are already incurring due to declining soil health and pesticide-induced pollinator loss,” the Commission said.

Commissioner for the Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, Virginijus Sinkevičius, said, “Europeans are clear. They want the EU to act for nature and bring it back to their lives. Scientists are clear. There is no time to lose, the window is closing. And clear is also the business case. Every euro spent for restoration will bring us at least eight in return. This is what this landmark proposal is about, restoring biodiversity and ecosystems so that we can live and thrive together with nature.”

“It is a law for all people in Europe and for the generations to come, for a healthy planet and a healthy economy,” Sinkevičius said. “It is a first of its kind globally, and we hope that it can inspire high international commitment for the protection of biodiversity in the upcoming COP15.”

Biodiversity Conference Moves to Montreal for Safety

The United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, CBD, announced on June 21 that the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP15) will move from Kunming in China to Montreal, Canada.
After nearly two years of delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic, conservation and biodiversity scientists were becoming more and more concerned that China’s strict zero COVID strategy, which uses measures such as lockdowns to quash all SARS-CoV-2 infections, would force the host nation to delay the meeting again.

COP15, now scheduled for Montreal, will bring together representatives from almost 200 CBD member states from December 5 to 17. China will continue as president of COP15, and Huang Runqiu, China’s minister of ecology and environment, will remain the chair.

In a statement, Huang said, “China would like to emphasize its continued strong commitment, as COP president, to ensure the success of the second part of COP15, including the adoption of an effective post-2020 global biodiversity framework, and to promote its delivery throughout its presidency.”

Researchers had warned that another setback to the proposed biodiversity agreement, which aims to halt the “alarming” rate of species extinctions and to protect vulnerable ecosystems, would be disastrous for countries’ abilities to meet the proposed, ambitious targets to protect biodiversity over the next decade.

Canadian Minister of Environment and Climate Change Steven Guilbeault and Minister of Foreign Affairs Mélanie Joly welcomed the biodiversity conference attendees, saying, “Montréal has always hosted the Secretariat of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity. Given that China cannot provide the location for the conference due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Canada is stepping up to fulfil this role.”

“The Government of Canada’s primary concern has always been to ensure the COP15 is a success for nature, no matter where it is held,” they said.

“There is an urgent need for international partners to halt and reverse the alarming loss of biodiversity worldwide. Canada will continue to advocate for international collaboration on an ambitious post-2020 global biodiversity framework, targeting 30 percent of lands and oceans conserved by 2030,” the Canadian ministers said.

“With up to one million species currently at risk of extinction worldwide, the decline of biodiversity has critical implications for humanity, from the collapse of food, economic, and health systems to the disruption of entire supply chains,” they stressed. “The world cannot afford to wait any longer for global action on nature protection.”

Featured image: Schwangau, Bavaria, Germany under development. August 19, 2018 (Photo by Hans Permana)

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