Right now, the European Commission is seeking inputs for a new nature Restoration Law. This new law must be a real game-changer for nature, the climate and ultimately for our own health and wellbeing, writes Laura Hildt.

You can help make it happen by calling for an ambitious nature Restoration Law before 5 April.

A key commitment in the EU’s Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 is the Commission’s proposal for new legally binding nature restoration targets by the end of the year. While most of the other commitments in the Strategy are going in the right direction to put nature on the path to recovery, they are voluntary. Therefore, this new law is the major opportunity to have a real impact on biodiversity across the EU. For that to happen, we need a clear and loud signal from civil society asking for an ambitious and strong law. You can join tens of thousands of people demanding such a law through the #RestoreNature campaign.

A big deal

EU laws on nature are a rare and threatened species, as it is not every day (not even every decade) that you get a new EU law on biodiversity. Here is an overview of what an ambitious Restoration Law can mean – if we make it happen.

Protection alone is no longer enough

Across Europe, we have been destroying ecosystems. Industrial agriculture, intensive logging, grey infrastructure such as dams and overfishing have led to the degradation of our grasslands, forests, rivers and seas. This does not only mean that the quantity and quality of nature has been declining, it also has a profound impact on fundamental aspects of nature that our lives depend on, such as pollination, clean air and climate mitigation.

The destruction is so widespread and so severe, that simply protecting the healthy ecosystems that are left is not enough. Neither to halt biodiversity loss, nor to mitigate the worst of the climate crisis, or help us adapt to a rapidly changing climate. As a consequence, we need to restore nature while also making all sectors of society more sustainable.

Real change for land and sea use

Due to the extent of the problem, restoring nature must entail a fundamental change in the way we use and manage land, oceans and freshwater habitats.  We urgently need large-scale improvements to high-quality nature rather than merely minor incremental improvements. To achieve such improvements, the law must focus on biodiverse ecosystems with significant carbon storage and sequestration potential, such as peatlands, floodplains, wetlands, old-growth forests, biodiversity rich grasslands, coastal areas, rivers and marine ecosystems.

The new Restoration Law must lead to real nature restoration that brings nature back to a high quality status, where healthy and well-balanced ecosystems thrive and key species are abundant.

Adding a few hedges to farms will not do it, nor will planting some trees in the city. While such measures are highly beneficial and very important for biodiversity, they will not lead to the big change we urgently need. They are the basics of good farming and of greening urban spaces, not of restoration.

A clear target to restore EU land and sea

We are running out of time for restoring ecosystems, as the window for halting biodiversity loss and avoiding dangerous tipping points is closing quickly. Therefore, we need a strong Restoration Law that is easy to implement, leads to real changes on the ground within the next few years, and is enforceable.

We need a clear target to restore a minimum of 15% of the land and sea area, as well as 15% of rivers in every EU country. With a simple area-based target, governments must then identify the appropriate areas for restoration, in line with the criteria provided by the law, such as connectivity between natural areas, and contributions to climate mitigation and adaptation.

National and local governments must then adopt measures to change the use and management of the areas they identified for restoration, for example by removing river barriers, stopping logging or rewetting peatlands. With clear and binding deadlines and milestones, these measures must kickstart restoration as soon as possible. By 2030, ecosystems must be either restored, or set on a pathway to healthy and resilient nature in cases where the process can take decades, such as forests.

A multi-purpose tool

While halting biodiversity loss should be the main objective of the new law, nature restoration brings opportunities for strong synergies with climate mitigation and adaptation. By revitalising carbon-rich ecosystems such as peatlands, grassland or old-growth forests, restoration can play an important role in limiting global climate change. In fact, restoring degraded ecosystems can provide a third of the most cost-effective climate mitigation. Restoring floodplains or coastal areas can offer major benefits for water retention, helping to deal with floods and droughts.

In addition to being a win-win solution for the two biggest crises we face – biodiversity loss and climate change – and thus directly supporting human survival, health and wellbeing, nature restoration can also bring further benefits to society, including sustainable jobs, recreation opportunities and enhanced resilience against future pandemics.

No law can solve humanity’s biggest crises on its own

Here’s the catch. Nature restoration is a powerful tool with potential for bringing multiple benefits to nature and society and the new Restoration Law is a critical opportunity. We cannot, however, expect one law to solve all our problems.

The biodiversity and climate crises are massive and all-encompassing and relate to every aspect of our lives. Consequently, they require drastic change throughout all sectors.

One law cannot provide this change on its own. It cannot solve industrial agriculture, intensive forestry, the pollution and degradation of soil, urban air pollution, overfishing and all other biodiversity issues at once. Trying to do so risks diluting what can be a focused, strong and clear law into a scattered, weak and messy greenwashing tool.  

Addressing the above issues is of fundamental importance for tackling the biodiversity crisis, and urgent action is required. Therefore, the Restoration Law must be accompanied by other legal tools and funding streams with complementary goals.

One such key instruments is the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which should be fully aligned to the European Green Deal. The CAP is currently in the last phase of a reform process and, unfortunately, it seems likely that it will exacerbate rather than solve the problems.

Another suite of key instruments are the existing Directives on habitats, birds, freshwater and marine ecosystems. EU governments must significantly step up their efforts to fully comply with them, and the European Commission must put much more effort into ensuring that they do so. The new Restoration Law should not seek to duplicate, replace or undermine the existing body of robust EU environmental law, rather new obligations must be complementary to the existing ones.

Halting the biodiversity crisis will also require additional instruments such as a law on soil, a strong Forest Strategy and the implementation of commitments in the Biodiversity Strategy on protected areas, urban greening and biodiversity-rich landscape elements on farms.

You can make this happen

This new Restoration Law needs all the support it can get. Please take two minutes to sign and share the #RestoreNature petition that responds to the public consultation asking for a restoration law that delivers real change in land and sea use, and sets a clear target and benefits for biodiversity, climate and human health. You have until 5 April to get your voice heard!

To read more about our demands for the Restoration Law, please read our NGO position paper and the answers and explanations that will be submitted to the public consultation through the campaign.

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