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Major new Nature Restoration Law proposes restoring 20% of European ecosystems by 2030

June 23, 2022
Removing barriers such as weirs and dams which fragment European rivers is a key focus of the new Nature Restoration Law proposal. Image: Keith Gallie | Flickr Creative Commons

The European Commission published a proposal for a major new European Nature Restoration Law yesterday. The proposal suggests a series of new binding targets to restore 20% of the EU’s land and sea by 2030, alongside deadlines for the restoration of important natural habitats. Further, it suggests that all European ecosystems in need of restoration should be restored by 2050.

The proposed Nature Restoration Law is an indication of the vital contemporary importance of ecological restoration, both in Europe and worldwide. The proposal is intended to build on existing environmental policy such as the EU Green Deal and Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 to ensure that Europe’s ecosystems are restored, resilient and adequately protected.

“The window to adapt to the reality of the climate crisis is rapidly closing,” says Laura Hildt, Policy Officer for Biodiversity at the European Environmental Bureau. “The Nature Restoration Law proposal is a strong tool to bring back and improve ecosystems that can help us to deal with droughts, floods and heatwaves. The overarching obligation to restore 20% of the EU’s land and sea by 2030 can be game-changing – provided all Member States do their fair share and put in place real restoration measures.” 

EU Member States will be required to develop new national restoration plans to achieve these ambitious goals within national environmental and social contexts. Through supporting the restoration of Europe’s ecosystems, the Nature Restoration Law is intended to help boost biodiversity, limit climate change, build up resilience to natural disasters – such as floods – and reduce food security risks. Moreover, environmental restoration can have significant benefits to our health and wellbeing, and help create new sustainable jobs and ecotourism opportunities.

“We’re not just talking about the survival of nature, we’re talking about the survival of humankind,” says Sofie Ruysschaert, Nature Restoration Policy Officer at Birdlife Europe and Central Asia. “From farming to fishing, our ability to continue feeding humanity hangs on repairing the damage done to ecosystems while we still can. Vested interests argue that nature is a threat to our food provision, but the truth is that it is our most important ally. But the devil is in the details – this law can put nature on the path to recovery only if it makes governments take effective measures to recover species and habitats severely impacted by intensive agriculture, forestry and fisheries practices.”

Rivers, floodplains and peatlands are all addressed in the new proposal. It outlines that the objective of restoring 25,000km of free-flowing EU rivers in the Biodiversity Strategy should be supported by the ongoing removal of barriers such as dams and weirs. The proposal suggests that major new inventories of barriers to water movement – both along river channels and out onto floodplains – should be made, and obsolete barriers should be urgently removed. This is intended to result in the restoration of the natural connectivity of rivers and their floodplains.

The Nature Restoration Law proposal also calls for the restoration and rewetting of degraded European peatlands, emphasising the vital role they play in storing carbon and providing biodiversity habitat. It places peatland restoration as a key aspect of agricultural restoration targets in the new policy.

However, WWF researchers point out that whilst it is positive that river and peatland restoration is given direct attention in the proposal, there are still improvements that could be made. They suggest that Member States should be required to restore 15% of the length of European rivers (or 178,000km) as free-flowing, as well as restoring their floodplains. Further, they suggest that the proposal’s targets for peatland restoration need to be strengthened and specified to ensure they function as effective carbon stores.

The Nature Restoration Law proposal will now be considered by the The European Parliament and Council of the EU ahead of its potential adoption. If adopted, the new Law is expected to come into force in 2024.

“The restoration law is a huge opportunity to bring nature back before the climate and biodiversity crises spiral completely out of control,” says Sabien Leemans, Senior Biodiversity Policy Officer at WWF European Policy Office. “Restoration of ecosystems like peatlands, forests and seagrass meadows can help reduce emissions and sequester millions of tonnes of carbon each year. The Commission’s proposal is good, but we need to keep in mind the urgency and make sure the bulk of the restoration action in these ecosystems is not pushed back beyond 2030. This decade must be the turning point to place nature on the path to recovery.”


This article is supported by the MERLIN project.

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