The EU’s key biodiversity law narrowly survived rebellion from centre-right MEPs, but votes on amendments are postponed.
Key decisions on Europe’s Nature Restoration Law (NRL) will be taken at the end of June, after attempts by centre-right MEPs to kill off the legislation were defeated in a tight committee vote.
“Today, the EU narrowly escaped a huge international embarrassment,” said Sabien Leemans, Senior Biodiversity Policy Officer at WWF European Policy Office. “However, the upcoming weeks are the last chance for the MEPs to save the NRL, the EU’s credibility and at the same time deliver on the Green Deal.”
Political opposition ahead of a vote on the NRL draft proposal at the Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) on 15 June, threatened to weaken targets to combat nature loss.
“Nature restoration is a solution to address both the biodiversity and climate crises,” said Leemans, adding that the NRL is a “key pillar” of the EU Green Deal.
Members of the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) had claimed that the NRL is “poorly drafted”, representing an “attack” on European agriculture, forestry and fisheries which will negatively impact food security.
“The European Commission cannot expect the EPP to simply accept the proposal without a comprehensive impact assessment on food security, reduced farmland and the renewable energy roll-out,” said Christine Schneider MEP and Chief Negotiator on nature restoration for the EPP, as the grouping withdrew from negotiations in May, insisting that the Commission draft a new proposal.
During the ENVI committee meeting, MEPs voted 44:44, preventing an EPP-led to rejection amendment from being passed. MEPs then moved to vote on the compromised deal amendments aimed at addressing the concerns of EPP-led opposition to the NRL. But due to a lack of time the ENVI committee Chair Pascal Canfin has postponed the finale vote to 27 June.
In May, NGOs urged MEPs to “listen to citizens and scientists” and uphold the European Commission’s ambitions on protecting nature and biodiversity, following the European Parliament fisheries and agriculture committees’ votes that month against the EU’s NRL.
Ahead of the ENVI vote on the NRL today, NGOs including the WWF highlighted the importance of adopting legally binding rules to restore damaged marine ecosystems, reverse biodiversity loss, and secure long-term prosperity for coastal communities.
“[The EPP] have launched a fake news campaign against nature restoration, claiming to defend farmers’ interests and spreading misinformation about the impact on food security,” said Leemans during a WWF webinar, earlier this week.
“Despite their opposition, there is a wave of positive support for nature restoration from various sectors, including agriculture, small-scale fishers, wind energy, businesses, and scientists.”
The NRL is a key element of the EU Biodiversity Strategy, which calls for binding targets to restore degraded ecosystems, in particular those with the most potential to capture and store carbon and to prevent and reduce the impact of natural disasters.
The proposal aims to establish a larger EU-wide network of protected areas on land and sea, the launch of an EU nature restoration plan, as well as introducing measures to enable the necessary transformative change and tackle the global biodiversity crisis and work towards the goals outlined in the Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF).
Ioannis Agapakis, Nature Conservation Lawyer at ClientEarth, said: “Despite no final vote, this indispensable law to restore the EU’s land and ocean lives to fight another day. However, the chaotic votes on individual amendments could create major loopholes that – if unaddressed – risk substantially weakening the law.
“If on 27 June, the Committee chooses to ignore common sense, the law and science it will actively endanger us and nature. We need a law that will deliver long-term restoration on the ground, otherwise biodiversity loss will be further exacerbated, with the EU’s economy and its citizens’ future being the first ones to pay the price.”
Compromising on nature
A compromise draft was reportedly negotiated by European lawmakers, which included increased flexibility and a weakening of restoration targets, as well as the establishment of a nature restoration fund.
“The need to restore nature in Europe has never been greater,” Leemans added. “Science tells us that we have this window of opportunity until 2030 to both turn the tide on climate change and nature loss – we need to take this opportunity.”
The WWF has called on companies, investors and other stakeholders to engage with policymakers to ensure that the NRL has a “sufficient level of ambition” to combat climate and nature crises. It also called for the NRL’s adoption by the end of the year.
Owen Bethell, Enviromental Impact Lead – Global Public Affairs at food and beverage company Nestlé, stressed the importance of tackling nature and biodiversity loss in ensuring supply chain resilience and food security.
“Various measures are important within the nature restoration law, including improving farm resilience, protecting pollinators, unlocking investment opportunities through healthier forests, and creating a business case for change,” he said.
“It is essential to demonstrate that this initiative is not solely politically driven but also aligned with market developments and viewed as an opportunity for farmers rather than a threat.”
He added that Nestlé supports the GBF and considers the NRL as a “significant step” in putting those commitments into action.
Biodiversity loss was ranked as the third most severe threat humanity will face in the next 10 years in the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report 2022.