EU seeks to heal and bring back nature with landmark law

By Kate Abnet

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Commission will on Wednesday propose legally binding targets to restore nature across the EU, with the aim of restoring plummeting wildlife populations and repairing degraded habitats.

European Union environmental policy chief Virginijus Sinkevicius told Reuters the proposal would require EU countries to collectively restore nature to 20% of EU land by 2030 and reach individual targets for certain habitats and species.

“Nothing can replace the ecosystem services that the oceans, our soils or our forests provide,” he said in an interview.

The EU has enshrined its climate change targets in law, but not yet those for nature protection.

The law would set binding targets to increase farmland bird populations, reverse the decline of pollinators and restore 25,000 km (15,500 miles) of rivers to their natural course by 2030. Countries will have to produce plans to contribute to the EU – broad objectives.

Intensive agriculture, forestry and urbanization fuel the degradation of natural habitats. Most of Europe’s protected habitats and species have a negative conservation status, and a third of bee and butterfly species have declining populations.

The EU proposal, which has been delayed twice, will need to be approved by the European Parliament and EU countries – some of which have sought to delay or reverse sustainable agricultural measures, citing the impact of the war in Ukraine on world food supply.

Sinkevicius said the global food crisis was entirely caused by Russia blocking the export of millions of tons of Ukrainian grain, while failure to stop the degradation of nature would ultimately diminish the agricultural capacities of the Europe.

“If we lose soil fertility, if soil erosion and degradation continue, it will have a major impact on our agricultural production,” he said. Soil erosion is already costing Europe around €1.2 billion ($1.3 billion) a year in lost agricultural production.

Economic activities such as farming would not be prohibited on land where nature restoration measures are deployed, under EU law.

Laura Hildt, policy manager at the nonprofit European Environmental Bureau, called the law a “huge opportunity” to tackle wildlife loss and climate change, but said only substantial restoration nature should count towards goals.

“It’s great to have an overall goal. But it needs to be filled with the right metrics rather than a whole bunch of weak things that aren’t likely to bring change,” she said.

($1 = 0.9494 euros)

(Reporting by Kate Abnett; editing by Richard Pullin)

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