EU ministers approve contested Nature Restoration Law

World Monday 17/June/2024 19:03 PM
By: DW
EU ministers approve contested Nature Restoration Law

Brussels: European Union environmental ministers on Monday approved a contested conservation law that seeks to restore habitats to their natural condition.

The Nature Restoration Law aims to regrow forests, re-wet moors and return rivers to their natural, free-flowing states.

The law has proven controversial, due to concern over the heavy restrictions that could be placed on farmers. It was passed by the European Parliament earlier in the year.

Environment ministers of EU member states backed the policy at a meeting in Luxembourg, meaning it can now pass into law.

Environment Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevicius said on X, "We are still on track to reverse the biodiversity loss, let's now start work together and show that EU is still leading the way."

Austria's environment minister, Leonore Gewessler of the Greens, went against her conservative coalition partners by pledging to back the policy — giving it the majority needed to pass.

"I know I will face opposition in Austria on this, but I am convinced that this is the time to adopt this law," Gewessler told reporters.

Gewessler called it "a victory for nature" in a post on social media platform X, formerly Twitter.

On Monday, Austria's centre-right chancellor, Karl Nehammer, said it was "unlawful" of his climate minister to vote in favour of the nature restoration law.

"Austria should stick with its already-agreed vote" against the law, Nehammer's office said.

"Last night, Federal Chancellor Karl Nehammer informed the Belgian Council Presidency (of the EU) that federal minister Gewessler's approval of EU renaturation would be unlawful."

The country's governing Austrian People's Party (OVP) said that Gewessler would face legal action for her decision to back the law.

The party's general secretary Christian Stocker said that a charge of abuse of office would be laid against Gewessler.

Germany's Environment Minister Steffi Lemke meanwhile said on X that the adoption of the law was "a clear signal of trust in Europe's ability to compromise and its responsibility to protect the environment and nature."

Italy, Hungary, the Netherlands, Poland, Finland and Sweden voted against. Belgium, which is responsible for chairing talks among member states, abstained.

The law sets a target for the EU to restore at least 20% of the EU’s land and sea areas by 2030 and all ecosystems in need of restoration by 2050.

It aims to reverse the decline of Europe's natural habitats, of which 81% are determined to be in poor health.

The legislation also sets specific targets such as peatlands that can soak up CO2 emissions and help curb climate change. Other ecosystems explicitly covered by the law include forests, grasslands, and wetlands, as well as rivers, lakes, and coral beds.

Member states must restore at least 30% of habitats specifically covered by the new law from a poor to a good condition by 2030.

That target would increase to 60% by 2040, and 90% by 2050.