Biodiversity loss is a global challenge. Some scientists report that due to human activity, we are currently facing the sixth mass extinction since life on earth began[i]. In the EU specifically, 81% of habitats are in poor condition, and one in three bee and butterfly species are in decline[ii]. There has also been a general decline in the European bird population between 1980 and 2016 because of urbanisation, temperature change, change in forest cover, and agricultural intensification over the last decades[iii].
On the 12th of July, the European Parliament voted to adopt the EU Nature Restoration Law (NRL) with 336 votes in favour, 300 against, and 13 abstentions[iv]. It is a central element of the EU Biodiversity Strategy and the first EU-wide law that will comprehensively protect biodiversity[v]. The NRL means that by 2030, at least 20% of all land and sea areas in the EU must be covered by restoration measures, and by 2050, all degraded ecosystems should be repaired[vi]. It is estimated that for every euro invested in restoration, between €8 (US $9.00) to €38 (US $42.70) will be returned in ecosystem benefits[vii].
Research into how economic valuations of ecosystem services can protect nature is growing. Understanding the economic value that ecosystem services create and the costs of ecosystem disservices can lead to more efficient policies to preserve ecosystem services and, therefore, nature itself[viii].
The European Commission initially proposed the EU Nature Restoration Law on the 22nd of June 2022 and has since faced much opposition from EU member states. Rosanna Conte, an Italian member of the European Parliament (MEP) from the Identity and Democracy group, was amongst those opposing the law. She said,
“Less land for farmers, less sea for fishermen, less activity for businesses, and fewer European products and jobs for our citizens. These are the heavy repercussions of the proposals contained in a regulation permeated with ideology and counterproductive for nature itself”[ix].
Some opponents of the law have suggested that it poses a threat to food security by reducing yields and overall production, as well as the land available for agriculture. For example, the law allows for 30% of former peatland that is currently being used for farming to be restored by 2030 and 70% to be restored by 2050[x]. Peatland is an important carbon sink, but when drained, peatlands are a significant source of greenhouse gas (GHG). Drained peatlands and wetlands account for 7% of Europe’s GHG emissions[xi]. A rewetting provision in the NRL was initially included but then later removed from the final text agreed by Parliament. However, it is likely that rewetting will still be needed to hit the restoration targets[xii]. There are also worries that marine protected areas created by the NRL will harm fisheries.
The European Parliament and European Commission contradict claims that the law poses a risk to food security and instead argue that the risks will be reduced[xiii]. This has also been supported by 6000 scientists who have signed an open letter in support of the EU’s Green Deal and the Nature Restoration Law[xiv]. The letter states that the biggest threats to food security are climate change and biodiversity loss, both of which reduce ecosystem services important for farming, such as pollination and pest control. Regarding the marine protected areas, the letter states,
“Setting marine protected areas, especially large and fully protected, has been shown to be the most effective means to retain and even boost yields for fisheries, thanks to the spillover effect of fish and invertebrates by providing nursing grounds”[xv].
Furthermore, the NRL will only come into effect when the Commission has provided data on the conditions needed to ensure long-term food security[xvi]. In response to claims that the NRL will reduce job opportunities, the open letter says that,
“By supporting a business model based on extensification and innovation for developing agroecological practices, which tends to be more labour intensive, both SUR and NRL can stimulate employment in the agricultural and food system sectors. In the longer term, such investments can prevent the collapse of agricultural productions, and with them the collapse of jobs, due to climate changes and environmental degradation.[xvii]”
Over 80 companies and investors have come out in support of EU environmental legislation, including the NRL, because they see it as a critical step to increasing economic resilience[xviii]. Three million companies across Europe are dependent on at least one ecosystem service[xix], and the World Economic Forum estimates that up to $10 trillion and millions of jobs could be generated annually from nature-positive products and services[xx].
Many are frustrated with the watered-down version of the NRL. This includes weakened requirements for farmers to reduce pesticides and restore nature, such as the removal of the requirement for rewetting of peatland. Noor Yafai, the Nature Conservancy’s director for global policy and institutional partnerships, has said that the law is “much less ambitious” than its initial version[xxi]. Similarly, Mick Wallace, a member of the European Parliament’s Environment Committee, said that the final text was only a “shell” of the initial proposal from the European Commission[xxii].
Gemma recently graduated with a degree in International Development. She is currently studying for an MSc in Sustainable Urbanism, which examines urban planning and urban design through a sustainability lens. “I’m passionate about addressing sustainability challenges in a holistic and pragmatic way. Zero Carbon Academy's diverse range of services targets many of the areas that need support if we are to transition to a liveable future. I’m excited to see the impact that the Academy makes.”