The EU Nature Restoration Law could stop us from destroying ourselves

25 March 2024 – Europe is confronting environmental challenges that are unprecedented in their scale and urgency.

From the alarming decline in biodiversity to the relentless march of climate change, the continent faces a series of crises that threaten not just its natural heritage but its very future.

To pick just one example, Spain saw 30-degree Celsius weather this winter. We know that the Mediterranean is warming up much faster than the rest of the world – that knowledge is no longer theoretical, we can see it happening in front of our eyes.

Global CO2 emissions were the highest in the last year, the temperature has already reached 1.5 degrees over the pre-industrial level — and I do not see many panicking.

In fact, fossil fuel subsidies topped $7 trillion (€6.5tn), or 7.1% of global GDP in 2022. The highest figure ever. Get ready, it will get worse.

Against this backdrop, the Nature Restoration Law comes as a path and a declaration of intent, a signal that Europe is ready to lead by example.

But even though the European Parliament approved the law in February, hurdles are constantly put up against its application. Last summer, the law survived on the knife’s edge, first at committee stage, and then in the plenary vote.

The law made it through with a very slim majority. Further attempts to kill it were made all the way to the February plenary, where a last-ditch attempt to block its progress took place at the last minute, in spite of the many compromises that had been made to create a proposal that would be acceptable to all parties.

Even as the law is now hopefully to be adopted in the European Council, usually little more than a formality, there are still whispers that some member states are considering rejecting it and sending it back into the discussion stage — possibly killing the EU’s Green Agenda in the process.

The benefits are clear, yet the voices are not united

The constant drumbeat of doubt raised around this law is very indicative of larger malaise: with farmers, many in good faith, taking to the streets of Europe, and a climate-denialist far-right on the rise in many countries, many politicians find short-term electoral concerns more pressing than future rewards that they might not be around to rip.

It shouldn’t be so. The law’s supporters and the Belgian Presidency must now show that the NRL stands for far more than political wrangling.

Reflecting on my own tenure as the European Commissioner for Environment, I’ve witnessed firsthand the transformative power of concerted environmental action.

Past initiatives have not only paved the way for sustainable development but have also shifted our perception of the natural world.

In my native Slovenia, known for the richness and beauty of its nature, for example, restoring the Stržen River led to significant improvements in the ecological condition of the Cerknica Lake, improving protected priority habitats and important bird nesting areas.

Despite this and many other tangible examples, the voices of our MEPs were not united on the NRL.

We have so much to lose

Drawing from these experiences, I see the Nature Restoration Law as a necessary step, one that builds on past successes and carries the potential for renewal — and that has the potential to heal these divisions.

The law’s focus on restoring ecosystems, enhancing biodiversity, and promoting sustainable practices stands to benefit everyone — producers and consumers, those living in cities and those in rural communities.

While the targets set by the law, such as restoring 20% of the EU’s land and sea areas by 2030, may seem modest, they represent essential steps in the right direction. These goals also offer member states the flexibility to adopt more ambitious measures, looking to spark a spirit of innovation and leadership in environmental conservation.

The economic implications of the Nature Restoration Law are also central, as the law has job creation and sustainable economic growth at its heart.

From 1997 to 2011, it’s estimated that global ecosystem services suffered annual losses worth between €3.3 trillion and €16.5tn. Land degradation issues like soil erosion and desertification resulted in further annual losses ranging from €5tn to €9tn.

Currently, over half of the world’s total GDP is at risk due to the loss of nature. In contrast, restoring nature only brings benefits and can support up to 500,000 new jobs just in Natura 2000 areas.

Beyond the numbers, the benefits of improved health outcomes, enhanced community well-being, and the rejuvenation of cultural heritage through the preservation of natural landscapes should speak to the heart of every European.

Champion the law for the sake of our collective future

This isn’t just an environmental imperative; it’s a way to rekindle connections with our traditions and reinforce the social fabric of our communities.

By adopting this law, the EU positions itself as a global leader in environmental conservation, influencing international policies and setting a benchmark for global action.

This leadership extends beyond mere legislation; it embodies a commitment to a sustainable and equitable future, inspiring nations worldwide to adopt similar measures.

At this moment, the Belgian Presidency plays a central role in shaping the Union’s ecological future. I urge the Presidency to champion this law, to guide its successful adoption and effective implementation.

By doing so, we would be demonstrating that environmental restoration and economic prosperity can go hand in hand, setting a powerful example for the world.

At the end of the day, the Nature Restoration Law is a blueprint for a greener, more resilient Europe — and a call for ambition, for courage, and for collective action.

We have the opportunity to forge a path towards a future that is not only sustainable but also flourishing. By choosing it, we’re investing in ourselves, ensuring a legacy of prosperity and well-being for generations to come.

The ultimate fact is rather simple — we humans are part of nature, and destroying nature is destroying ourselves.

First published on euronews.

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