In a Nutshell
Nature Restoration Targets is a legislative proposal from the European Commission that would set legally binding targets for nature restoration in Europe. The aim is to mitigate biodiversity loss, ecosystem degradation and climate change, and to boost human and animal health by complementing the EU’s existing framework for protecting ecosystems. If adopted, the regulation would be the first continent-wide, comprehensive law of its kind.
By 2030, the targets would ensure restoration of at least 20% of degraded EU land and sea areas, and the remaining ones by 2050. The proposed legislation covers a broad range of ecosystems with specific targets, from forests and agricultural land to urban areas, rivers and marine habitats, with emphasis on restoring those with the highest potential for carbon removal and storage, and for prevention and reduction of natural disasters. Member States would be required to develop Nature Restoration Plans, to be assessed by the Commission, and to report on their progress toward meeting domestic targets.
Many aspects of the law would promote carbon removal. The draft law prioritises the restoration of damaged terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems that have significant potential for carbon removal. This includes ecosystems such as peatlands, forests, grasslands, marshlands, heathland and scrub and coastal wetlands. Focusing on damaged and carbon-rich ecosystems is thought to be cost-efficient (as well as critical for climate change mitigation) because the monetised benefits from carbon storage could outweigh the cost of restoring ecosystems by a factor of six. It is still unclear how the Commission expects to monetise carbon removals through nature restoration, but it has proposed that Member States fund their restoration efforts through the EU, national and private sources.
Under the proposed regulation, agricultural ecosystems across Member States must achieve a trend of increasing organic carbon stocks in cropland and mineral soils. This trend must be evident at the national level, be measured at least every three years and is mandated to increase until satisfactory levels have been attained. Moreover, many ‘high-diversity landscape’ agricultural practices overlap with good soil management protocols for reducing soil loss, such as terracing and buffer strips. Reducing topsoil erosion is fundamental to soil carbon sequestration.
What's on the Horizon?
The draft Law faced political opposition from the EPP and the Conservatives and was almost withdrawn.
On 27 June, the ENVI Committee rejected the Commission’s proposal on the Nature Restoration Law. On 12 July, the Parliament rejected the EPP’s call to reject the law. It voted in favour of a common approach to the file, which had to be watered down to gather support.
Interinstitutional negotiations started in July 2023. The Spanish Presidency has signalled that the Nature Restoration Law will be one of its priorities. A provisional agreement was reached between the European Parliament and the Council. Both parties now need to formally adopt the agreement before the law is published in the Official Journal of the EU. On 29 November 2023, the Parliament’s ENVI Committee voted in favor of the provisional agreement. An indicative plenary vote has been set for 24 February 2024. The Council is analysing the provisional agreement.
Giving teeth to EU environmental rules
The proposed Nature Restoration Law sits at the intersection between European climate and biodiversity policies, demonstrating the interconnected nature of these crises. If passed, the Law would contribute toward the EU’s delivery of its 2050 climate neutrality target, especially if the range of ecosystems in scope remains as broad and numerous as proposed. Many ecosystems constitute natural carbon sinks; restoring them can help draw down more carbon from the atmosphere and the Law’s legally binding targets will prioritise the restoration of those that have the highest potential to capture and store carbon. According to the Commission, restoring degraded ecosystems such as forests through management and afforestation has the capability to remove approximately 500 Mt CO2e annually by 2050.
In general, this law would add rigor to the EU’s existing environmental law regime. To date, the efficacy of these schemes has suffered from lack of targets, deadlines and procedural clarity. The EU has, so far, failed to meet its voluntary goals (for example, the Convention on Biological Diversity’s voluntary target to restore at least 15% of its degraded ecosystems by 2020 was missed).
Another advantage of the law would be new data sources that will be gathered as part of the national Restoration Plans and reports, such as mapping any agricultural and forest areas that need restoration that would highlight areas of carbon depletion, which may help fill data gaps on terrestrial carbon flows.
Additionality and the CRCF
It is still unclear how the Nature Restoration Law would intersect with the EU Carbon Removal Certification Framework (CRCF). The Commission has proposed that carbon farming through restoration of peatlands and other ecosystems be eligible for certification under CRCF. However, the introduction of the Nature Restoration Law will have implications for the additionality rules in the CRCF, which state that carbon removal activities must exceed standard practices and legal requirements to be certified. By changing legalities and norms governing nature restoration, and by extension terrestrial and aquatic carbon-enhancing practices, the Nature Restoration Law might limit which carbon farming projects can be certified under the CRCF.
Status of the stakeholder debate
There is a strong case for increased ambition for the Nature Restoration Law. Parliament’s rapporteur, MEP César Luena, is advocating for raising the proposed target of restoring 20% of the EU’s land and seas by 2030 to 30% in line with the global decision adopted in December at the COP15 UN Biodiversity Conference in Montreal. Additionally, under the current proposal, the majority of the restoration action is postponed until after 2030; it takes time for the carbon benefits of nature restoration measures to materialise. Hence, policy-makers should bring the timeline forward to ensure these measures contribute to the EU’s net zero and biodiversity goals.
Questions remain as to how much flexibility Member States will have in their implementation of the law. Some are particularly concerned about the impact of this regulation on farmers and foresters and, by extension, European food security and sovereignty (although the perceived trade-off between ecological restoration and EU food security has been challenged). For example, farmers and foresters may be obligated to transition to more sustainable practices, which may result in additional costs. Several voices in the Parliament’s Agriculture Committee argue that the proposed law should better integrate the interests of farmers by excluding agriculture from the scope, or ensuring nature restoration is economically attractive to farmers with new non-CAP financing.
There are similar concerns as to whether the new regulation adequately accounts for the socioeconomic role of forests. The proposed law aims to legally protect all remaining primary and old-growth forests. This stipulation is a particularly contentious issue for Nordic and Baltic countries with large forestry sectors. The European Landowners’ Organisation (ELO) decries the lack of new financing or market-based incentives for forest owners to preserve their land under the new law.
Overall, policymakers should assess the existing EU funding available for nature restoration and what further financial support is needed while also establishing dialogue and coordination with landowners and farmers. For example, the ENVI Committee’s report could require the Commission to reflect on the creation of a dedicated nature restoration fund. Policymakers should also not overlook the potential for new green jobs to be created as a result of the regulation.
European Commission Biodiversity strategy for 2030 setting out the long-term plan to protect nature and reverse the degradation of ecosystems
European Commission adopts the proposal for a Nature Restoration Law
The EU Council agreed on a general approach on the proposal for a Nature Restoration Law.
The ENVI committee (the lead EU Parliament committee for this file) rejected the Commission’s proposal for the EU nature restoration law as amended by the ENVI Rapporteur of the file (44 pro, 44 against)
The EU Parliament adopted a common approach to the Law and rejected the EPP’s call to reject the Law.
First trilogue negotation
Second trilogue negotiation
Provisional agreement between the EU Parliament and the Council reached after the third trilogue negotiation
The EU Parliament ENVI Committee voted in favor of the provisional agreement
EU Parliament plenary vote on the provisional agreement
- Inception impact assessment on protecting biodiversity: nature restoration targets under EU biodiversity strategy, European Commission, 2020
- Biodiversity strategy for 2030, European Commission, 2020
- Regulation on nature restoration, European Parliament briefing, 2022
Proposal for a REGULATION OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL on nature restoration