May 24. 2024. 5:43

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Brussels wrestles with potential impacts of EU nature restoration law


The EU’s proposed nature restoration law is the subject of hot debates. While forest owners worry about the impact on jobs and the economy, activists outline the positive externalities for health and the environment.

In June 2022, the European Commission presented its proposal for a new law with legally binding targets to restore Europe’s nature and reverse biodiversity loss in agriculture, forests, oceans and urban areas.

The situation is alarming, with 81% of habitats in poor condition and key species like bees seeing a continued decline in their population.

Yet, tackling these issues may result in reduced income for farmers and forests owners, making the whole exercise a tightrope walk.

“The nature restoration law was not tabled for the sake of nature. It was tabled for the sake of people and the ecosystem services that we have been losing,” explained Humberto Delgado Rosa, director of the biodiversity team at the European Commission’s environment department.

This also concerns “forests and these ecosystem services” like timber provision, he told a recent EURACTIV event. But “there are several others often more valuable, and we need to strike a balance.”

The EU’s nature restoration law promises €1.8 trillion in payoffs for restoring things like peatlands and forests, for a cost estimated at €154 billion, the EU executive said in an impact assessment published alongside its nature restoration bill.

The proposal offers billions in subsidies every year from the EU budget, alongside other potential revenue streams like rewarding carbon sequestration.

But environmentalists say the EU needs to go all the way and also stop providing incentives for activities that destroy the environment, such as bioenergy.

“It doesn’t matter if we dedicate €100 million per year to the protection of biodiversity, if it’s still up against €5 billion per year that’s going towards bioenergy subsidies,” said Kelsey Perlman from Fern, an environmental NGO.

Using wood for energy and for heating houses is what “destroys biodiversity and forests,” added Stoyan Tchoukanov, the president of Bulgaria’s beef breeder association and a member of the European Economic Social Committee (EESC).

EU tables ‘Nature Restoration Law’ to reverse biodiversity loss

The European Commission tabled a new Nature Restoration Law on Wednesday (22 June) with legally binding targets and €100 billion for EU member states to restore nature and reverse biodiversity loss in agriculture, forests, oceans and urban areas.

Landowners at the centre of attention

Aside from households using wood for heating, there is another group that risks being affected the most: landowners.

Indeed, “some costs may occur due to foregone incomes, such as to farmers, forest owners or fishers, while transitioning to more sustainable practices,” the Commission says in its impact assessment.

In practice, this means the EU’s nature restoration law is likely to put some foresters and fishermen out of business, something which causes anxiety among the professions concerned.

“We don’t want our farmers and forest owners to lose their jobs,” said Tchoukanov, himself a beef herder and orchard owner.

The European Landowners’ Organisation (ELO), for its part, pointed to a lack of financing for forest owners to preserve their land under the EU’s new nature protection law.

“Neither new public funding sources nor market-based incentive systems are envisaged” for ecosystem services rendered by forests, the lobby group said, citing things like clean air, water filtration, protection against ground erosion, and preservation of biodiversity.

“Especially when there are services that forests provide, which are public services, we should put the public money into that,” said Delgado Rosa.

The sums are potentially enormous. According to the Commission, a forest’s ecosystem services may “outpace the value of timber alone by a factor of 18.”

Lawmakers split over forestry in EU nature restoration law

The European Union aims to adopt a new regulation by the end of the year to restore natural ecosystems but several issues, including forestry, still create controversy among EU legislators.

Forest movement

In fact, nowhere are the impacts of the EU’s nature restoration law felt as strongly as in the forestry sector.

“Our forest management needs a deep transformation towards a close to nature or ecological forest management,” argued Anna Deparnay-Grunenberg, a Green member of the European Parliament.

According to her, the EU’s action in this regard is being blocked by member states with a large forestry industry – essentially Nordic countries like Sweden and Finland.

But some of these countries are also “losing jobs” in the forestry sector because of a deteriorating environment, according to Fern’s Perlman, who says the EU’s nature restoration bill has the “potential to develop over 500,00 jobs” in new nature-friendly activities.

Marta Múgica, a planting coordinator at the tree-focused Life Terra Foundation, says she is observing a change of mindsets.

With climate change, “people are also more open to receive a different species” of trees and that it “is not only about planting trees, it’s about getting it correct and having a healthy ecosystem,” she explained at the event.

Still, EU institutions that are in the midst of negotiations on the nature restoration law have a long road ahead of them. While there was a convergence of interests, it is “difficult to find the right balance because we all look at it with different lenses,” the Commission representative said.

This article follows the EURACTIV-organised policy debate “Restoring the Earth’s lungs – How can forests support climate change mitigation?” supported by Life Terra.

> Watch the full EURACTIV event below: