Proposal for a regulation on nature restoration

In “A European Green Deal”

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Under the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030, part of the European Green Deal, the European Commission committed to put forward a proposal for legally binding EU nature restoration targets to restore degraded ecosystems. 

In its resolution on the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030, the European Parliament strongly welcomed the commitment to draw up a legislative proposal on the EU nature restoration plan, including on binding restoration targets. It reiterated its call for a restoration target of at least 30 % of the EU’s land and seas, to be fully implemented by each Member State throughout their territory, within and outside protected areas, on the basis of biodiversity and ecosystem needs reflecting the country’s specific characteristics. Parliament stressed that in addition to an overall restoration target, the legislative proposal should include ecosystem-, habitat- and species-specific targets at the EU and Member State levels on the basis of their ecosystems, with emphasis on ecosystems for the dual purposes of biodiversity restoration and climate change mitigation and adaptation. After restoration, no ecosystem degradation should be allowed.

On 22 June 2022, the Commission tabled a proposal for a regulation on nature restoration. The proposal sets multiple binding restoration targets and obligations across a broad range of ecosystems, from forests and agricultural land to urban areas, rivers and marine habitats, complementing existing legislation. These nature restoration measures should cover at least 20 % of the EU’s land and sea areas by 2030, and all ecosystems in need of restoration by 2050. To implement the proposed regulation, Member States would be required to develop nature restoration plans, to be assessed by the Commission. The proposed nature restoration law also entails a specific objective to reverse the decline of pollinator populations by 2030.

In Parliament, the file was referred to the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI), which appointed César Luena (S&D, Spain) as rapporteur on 12 July 2022. The Committee on Fisheries (PECH) and the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development (AGRI), associated Committees under Rule 57, respectively appointed Caroline Roose (Greens/EFA, France) and Anne Sander (EPP, France) as rapporteurs.

In May 2023, both the AGRI and the PECH committees rejected the Commission's proposal. The ENVI committee voted on amendments to the proposed text on 15 and 27 June 2023. The final vote was a tie (44 votes in favour, 44 votes against, with no abstention), meaning that there was no majority in the committee to support the nature restoration proposal as amended. ENVI was therefore bound to table to plenary a proposal to reject the Commission's text. 

The proposal for a rejection did not pass in plenary (312 votes to 324 and 12 abstentions). On 12 July, Parliament adopted its position with 336 votes in favour, 300 against and 13 abstentions. It significantly amends the substance of the proposal, taking on board many elements of the general approach adopted by the Council on 20 June 2023, including various flexibilities and derogations. In addition, on land, Parliament requests that restoration measures apply to Natura 2000 sites, and removes the proposed quantitative, time-bound targets. It deletes the proposed provisions on the restoration of agroecosystems, and specifies that the regulation should only apply when the Commission has provided robust and scientific data on the necessary conditions to guarantee long term food security. It foresees a possibility to postpone the restoration targets in the regulation in the event of exceptional socioeconomic consequences ('emergency brake'). At the same time, Parliament reinforces requirements related to pollinators, with an obligation to both improve pollinator diversity and reverse the decline of pollinator populations at the latest by 2030. It also adds a new article requiring Member States to help achieve the EU objective of planting at least 3 billion additional trees by 2030; and new provisions to ensure coherence with the common fisheries policy in the implementation of measures to restore marine ecosystems. The Commission would be required, within 1 year of the act's entry into force, to assess any gap between restoration financial needs and available EU funding and look into measures to bridge such a gap, in particular through a dedicated EU instrument.

A deal was reached on 9 November 2023. The co-legislators backed the ambition to restore at least 20 % of the EU's land and 20 % of sea areas by 2030, and all ecosystems in need of restoration by 2050. They agreed to maintain time-bound, quantitative restoration targets for both terrestrial and marine ecosystems, but with additional flexibilities. On land, in line with Parliament's demands, Member States should, until 2030, give priority to areas of habitat types not in good condition that are located in Natura 2000 sites when putting in place restoration measures. The co-legislators agreed on derogations to the restoration rules for renewable energy projects and national defence; on various flexibilities in the ecosystem-specific obligations, including for rewetting peatland; and on the inclusion of an 'emergency brake', requested by Parliament. This would allow the application of relevant provisions on the restoration of agroecosystems to be suspended for up to 1 year under exceptional circumstances leading to insufficient land for EU food production. The deal requires the Commission to look into funding gaps for implementing the regulation's obligations within 1 year, proposing solutions if needed.

The agreement was approved by Coreper on 22 November and by ENVI on 29 November 2023. On 27 February 2024, Parliament formally adopted it in plenary, with 329 votes in favour, 275 against and 24 abstentions. So far, the Council has been unable to reach the qualified majority needed for validating the agreement.

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Author: Vivienne Halleux, Members' Research Service, legislative-train@europarl.europa.eu

As of 20/04/2024.