What does European approval of the nature restoration law mean for Spain?

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nature restoration law

On June 18, the European Nature Restoration Law (NRL) was approved by the European Environment Council. This marks a historic victory for the protection of nature and climate in Europe. The law is an important step towards the restoration of damaged habitats and ecosystems within the EU. Spain also voted in favour.

The Spanish Minister for Ecological Transition and Demographic Challenge, Teresa Ribera, stated after the approval, “This is very good news for all Europeans and for biodiversity as a whole, also on a global level.” According to her, the NRL “offers the possibility to continue developing the range of economic activities that directly depend on the good state of nature conservation.”

However, Ribera acknowledged that this requires a considerable effort, particularly in supporting the agricultural sector. “This requires a short-term commitment during the transformation that the restoration plans entail, and also a medium and long-term commitment to continue these activities,” Ribera said.

What is the goal of the Nature Restoration Law?

The aim of the law is to restore at least 20% of the EU’s land and sea areas by 2030 and to rehabilitate all affected ecosystems by 2050. To this end, the law imposes binding obligations on member states to restore their natural habitats. Special attention is given to areas with a high potential to store and capture carbon. Furthermore, the law aims to increase biodiversity and promote the use of nature to purify water and air, pollinate crops, improve food security, and prevent natural disasters such as floods.

The law includes specific measures to restore the declining pollinator populations in Europe and protect certain species of butterflies and birds. By 2030, EU countries must help plant at least 3 billion new trees and ensure that there is no net loss of urban green spaces and forest cover. Additionally, artificial river barriers will be removed to improve water connectivity, with the goal of restoring 25,000 km of rivers to their free flow by the end of the decade.

As part of the EU Biodiversity Strategy, the law will help achieve the objectives of the Paris Agreement, aiming to limit global warming to 1.5°C.

Controversy around the law

The law, first proposed by the European Commission in June 2022, has sparked much debate. Opponents, including conservative European parties such as the European People’s Party (EPP), argue that the law would threaten agricultural incomes, reduce food production, disrupt supply chains, and increase food prices. These concerns have led to farmers protests across Europe.

Farmers say that EU environmental regulations place an additional burden on a sector already heavily impacted by climate change. They point to conflicting rules that require farmers to simultaneously reduce their environmental impact and increase food production. With fuel subsidies and emission regulations abolished, farmers complain about a lack of support for the ecological transition. It became a major issue in the run-up to the EU elections and contributed to the rise of the right.

Reactions in Spain to the Nature Restoration Law

The final approval of the law has also raised resistance and concerns among agricultural organisations in Spain, particularly regarding the unclear funding of the measures. Critics say that ministers of the environment and governments that supported the law, including Spain’s, have ignored the farmers’ protests and the outcome of the recent European Parliament elections.

José María Castilla, director of the office of the agricultural association of young farmers ASAJA in Brussels, called the approval day “a sad day for the agricultural sector.” Castilla pointed out three main problems with the law: the funding of the restoration is unclear, non-EU countries are not taken into account, and the responsibility given to member states will lead to inequalities in the implementation.

Spanish environmental organisations happy with the law

Organisations such as Amigos de la Tierra, ClientEarth, Ecologistas en Acción, Greenpeace, SEO/BirdLife, and WWF are delighted that the EU Environment Council has ratified this regulation. They see this as essential to tackling the current environmental crises. According to them, the ratification shows the commitment of many European governments, including Spain, to nature restoration. Environmental movements also consider the law not only a means to improve habitats but also a powerful message that Europe is committed to the survival of our planet. They praise the progress of one of the most important pillars of the European Green Deal, despite the political divide over it.

National Restoration Plan Spain

In Spain, the approval of the Nature Restoration Law should lead to a National Restoration Plan and regional strategies to meet the obligations. According to environmental groups, it is crucial that these plans are developed with maximum public participation to prevent misinformation and misconceptions that nearly led to the failure of this important law.

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