EU states push past opposition to adopt landmark nature restoration law

The law includes legally binding targets and obligations for not only preserving, but restoring natural habitats.

Trees with trunks blackened by forest fires are seen near the village of Setienes following an earlier outbreak of wildfires in northern Spain's Asturias region, August 24, 2023
Trees with trunks blackened by forest fires are seen near the village of Setienes following an earlier outbreak of wildfires in northern Spain's Asturias region, August 24, 2023. More than 80 percent of Europe's habitats are in poor shape [Vincent West/Reuters]

The European Union countries have defeated opposition to greenlight a landmark nature restoration law that commits member states to revitalise at least a fifth of the bloc’s land and sea by 2030.

Twenty of the 27 members of the European Council voted in favour of the legislation on Monday, giving it the two-thirds majority required to pass. The passage of the environmental regulations came despite stiff opposition from several states.

Belgium abstained from the vote. The environment ministers of Finland, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland and Sweden voted against the law at a meeting in Luxembourg on Monday.

The law, slated to become among the EU’s biggest environmental policies, was passed after Austria’s environment minister, Leonore Gewessler of the Greens party, voted in favour in an unexpected twist after Vienna had suggested it was opposed.

The about-face infuriated Gewessler’s conservative coalition partners, including Chancellor Karl Nehammer’s Austrian People’s Party.

After the law was adopted, Gewessler said she voted for it because “courageous decisions are needed” when future generations are at stake.

“Today we send a signal: Our nature has earned our protection!” she wrote on X.

However, Nehammer said his government would file a complaint at the European court against an “unlawful” vote.

Belgium, which holds the EU’s rotating presidency, said the dispute would not affect the legality of the vote.

“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. The European delegation will be able to go to the next COP with its head held high,” said Alain Maron, climate minister of the government of the Brussels-Capital Region.

The regulation passed on Monday includes legally binding targets and obligations for nature restoration in a variety of ecosystems from terrestrial to marine.

“The regulation aims to mitigate climate change and the effects of natural disasters. It will help the EU to fulfil its international environmental commitments, and to restore European nature,” the European Council said in a statement.

It said the regulation lists commitments for member states to take measures to restore habitats when they are deemed in poor condition, with at least 90 percent of those habitats obliged to be restored by 2050.

More than 80 percent of European habitats are considered to be in poor condition.

It also includes efforts to prevent significant deterioration of areas and protect declining insect pollinators in Europe, along with ecosystem-specific measures like a commitment to plant at least three billion additional trees by 2030 at the EU level.

Member states must submit national restoration plans to the commission, and a review of the implementation of the law and its effects is slated for 2033.

A coalition of non-governmental organisations that was in favour of the law, including the Swiss-based World Wildlife Fund (WWF), called its adoption “a massive victory for Europe’s nature and citizens”.

Source: Al Jazeera