June 21, 2024

EU Countries Approve Landmark Nature Law

Angela Kenny

The strong leadership and courage of Austrian Environment Minister Leonore Gewessler saw a historic day for the protection of nature and natural habitats on June 17th when the European Council adopted the Nature Restoration Law (NRL). This measure to protect and restore habitats and ecosystems will provide a major contribution to climate impact mitigation, increase and protect biodiversity and crucially enhance food security.

In March 2024, even though the EU Parliament had already agreed on the measures included in the NRL, a number of countries withdrew support at the last minute preventing an EU Council vote on adoption of the law and casting doubt over whether the law would garner enough support to be adopted. At the time Minister for the Environment, Eamon Ryan made an impassioned plea for member states not to abandon nature, stating  “The destruction of nature is inextricably linked to climate change. This is not the time to hit the pause button,”.

On June 17th, Austrian Environment Minister Leonore Gewessler heeded this call with an equally last-minute change of mind and moved to support the law, despite instructions to the contrary from her coalition partners in Vienna. Gewessler now faces threats of criminal proceedings and recriminations over her move to support the law, but the EU Council have confirmed that the vote will stand.

The NRL is one strand of the EU’s Green Deal (a package of policy initiatives, which aims to set the EU on the path to a green transition, with the goal of reaching climate neutrality by 2050). This law is the first continent-wide, comprehensive law of its kind aimed at restoring degraded ecosystems, habitats and species in all member states. The law requires member states to establish and implement measures to jointly restore, as an EU target, at least 20% of the EU’s land and sea areas by 2030. Member states must submit national restoration plans, detailing how they will deliver on targets and must also monitor and report on their progress against agreed biodiversity indicators. Once the law is published in the EU’s Official Journal it will enter into force and will become directly applicable in all member states. 
Given recent changes to the makeup of the EU Parliament, this is a very important step forward for the EU Green Deal policy initiatives. There has been a reduction of approximately 20 seats in the green political voting block meaning that it may become increasingly difficult to progress outstanding measures under the Green Deal.

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