EU strengthens nature protection and focuses on repairing damaged ecosystems

Although the EU adopted major measures in the past to protect nature and ecosystem services, no significant progress has been made so far. However, the European Commission is aware of the need for a comprehensive set of measures covering all affected ecosystems, not just selected habitats. At the same time, practical measures need to be set in the context of EU environmental policies and conceptual changes in relation to economic development and sustainable use of natural resources. In this context, the 8th Union Environment Action Programme 2030 and the proposal for a legal framework for nature restoration are major developments.

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8th Environment Action Programme 2030

The EU’s 8th Environment Action Programme 2030, adopted on 6 April 2022, is an important element in strengthening the EU’s conceptual approach to nature protection. The Action Programme responds to societal developments to date and the shift towards an emphasis on mainstreaming elements of sustainability into all spheres of political and economic life. It emphasises the need for a transformation to a welfare economy in which growth is regenerative and calls for a holistic approach in all policymaking, taking into account economic, social and environmental progress “beyond GDP”.

The Action Plan sets out 6 thematic priority objectives in the following areas: mitigating climate change; adapting to climate change; protecting and restoring terrestrial and marine biodiversity; a non-toxic circular economy; a zero-pollution environment; and minimising environmental pressures from production and consumption in all economic sectors. In order to improve enforcement and ensure implementation of the necessary measures, the European Commission, with the support of the European Environment Agency (EEA) and the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), will monitor and evaluate the progress of the EU (and in particular of the Member States in achieving the priority targets) on an annual basis.

New proposal for regulation on nature restoration

On 22 June 2022, the European Commission presented a proposal for a regulation on nature restoration, which includes a comprehensive set of measures to restore damaged ecosystems and recover nature across Europe. The proposal for ambitious measures builds on the expert findings to date that, despite the efforts of the EU and the international community, biodiversity loss continues unabated and ecosystem degradation continues
at a critical rate, leading to substantial impacts on people, the economy, and the environment itself. By proposing practical measures, the European Commission is building on the EU’s 2030 and 2050 climate and biodiversity targets and the Green Deal for Europe, which identifies nature conservation and restoration as a key area.

The main purpose of the regulation is to provide the basis for a legal framework through which Member States would immediately put in place effective area-based nature restoration measures covering collectively at least 20% of terrestrial and marine areas by 2030. By 2050, all ecosystems in need of revitalisation are to be covered, thus repairing the damage to European nature. Considering the state and diversity of each ecosystem, specific targets are set for the restoration of terrestrial, coastal and freshwater ecosystems, and the restoration of marine ecosystems. Particular emphasis is placed on restoring urban ecosystems, natural river connectivity, pollinator populations, agricultural ecosystems, and forest ecosystems.

The legal framework covers all ecosystems and thus complements existing legislation with limited scope, particularly in relation to the Habitats Directive and the Natura 2000 protected area. The European Commission leaves the implementation of all objectives and measures in the hands of individual Member States, which are in this regard obliged to draw up national nature recovery plans. The national nature recovery plans are to be prepared for the period ending 2050, with deadlines to be met on an ongoing basis. The preparation of the national plans is to be based on monitoring and research of the necessary measures, pertaining to the latest scientific knowledge. The necessary measures are to be financed from the EU budget, with the current EU multiannual financial framework expected to support biodiversity (including restoration) with around €100 billion. Building on the “Farmer to Consumer” strategy, the European Commission also proposes to tighten the rules on the use of chemical pesticides to support the creation of more sustainable food systems while maintaining food security.

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