Implementation and cooperation key for EU nature restoration

Implementation and cooperation between the conservation and the agricultural sector will be crucial to a new Nature Restoration Law being voted on by the European Parliament early next year, according to a report by a group of scientists, including researchers from The James Hutton Institute.

The “Nature Restoration Law” (NRL) is a widely debated European regulation that aims to halt and reverse biodiversity loss in Europe.

It requires member states of the EU to implement restoration measures on at least 20% of land and marine areas by 2030, and in all ecosystems in need of restoration by 2050. Amongst others, the NRL specifies the area of peatlands to be rewetted, as well as targets to increase pollinator populations.

But will the regulation really achieve its aims?

An international team of scientists, led by the University of Duisburg-Essen and including Hutton expert Dr Kirsty Blackstock, analysed experiences with other European environmental policies, evaluated the prospects of the NRL being successful. 

The assessment, by scientists including some who lead large European projects on nature restoration and biodiversity,was published today (15 December) in the scientific journal Science.

It says that the NRL avoids several pitfalls and has clear goals, but that implementation of what are voluntary measures means that cooperation with the agriculture sector will be key.

“The concept of nature-based solutions and businesses protecting the natural capital on which their long-term prosperity depends is crucial to this cooperation; and for cooperation with other sectors (such as water supply)”

Dr Kirsty Blackstock
Dr Kirsty Blackstock

“The concept of nature-based solutions and businesses protecting the natural capital on which their long-term prosperity depends is crucial to this cooperation; and for cooperation with other sectors (such as water supply),” says Dr Blackstock.

“Working with nature should not be seen as an additional burden, but an investment in the long future of their business. This is not an easy transformation to achieve, but this shift in thinking will be central to help the policy meet its objectives.”

“The NRL avoided several pitfalls that often obstruct the implementation of European policies,” says Daniel Hering from the University of Duisburg-Essen, first author of the study. “The regulation saves time as it does not need to be transposed into national law, and an implementation framework is clearly laid out.”

At the same time, national implementation will be crucial for the NRL’s success. “While targets are precisely defined and binding, the steps to achieve them need to be decided by the European countries and most of them are voluntary,” adds Josef Settele from Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research UFZ in Halle, one of the study’s authors.

Key for the implementation will be the cooperation of nature restoration with land users, in particular with agriculture. “Intensive agriculture is still a key driver for biodiversity loss in Europe,” says senior author Guy Pe’er. “But objectives for agriculture and nature restoration could be combined, with opportunities for both.”

Agriculture directly benefits from healthy pollinator populations and increased water storage capacity in the landscape that are both aims of the NRL. The authors conclude that funds provided by the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy could help to achieve the NRL’s aims: a statement to be intensively debated in science and application.

Overall, the authors provide a positive outlook for the NRL, but warn that ambitious national implementation and cooperation with economic sectors, such as agriculture, will eventually determine the success of nature restoration in Europe.

The NRL is part of the Green Deal and is, amongst others, intended to fulfil the international Kunming-Montreal biodiversity agreement of, according to which at least 30 percent of degraded ecosystems must be restored.

The NRL has already overcome various hurdles. Most recently, it was approved by the EU Parliament’s Environment Committee, after delegations of the Parliament and the Council of Europe agreed the final text. I final vote is due to be held in early 2024.

Press and media enquiries: 

Elaine Maslin, Media Officer, The James Hutton Institute, tel: +44 (0)1224 395076 or +44 (0)7977 805808