Restoring nature to heal our planet – OceanCare calls on the EU to pass key legislation now

March 26, 2024

Our wounded planet, our climate, our seas and their inhabitants cannot wait – we must restore nature now. The agreement on the EU’s nature restoration legislation was reached after long negotiations. It’s adoption – or non-adoption – is a test of the European Union’s credibility and international standing. OceanCare calls on the Belgian Presidency to act as an honest broker and bring the law over the finishing line now.

Arguably the greatest remaining challenge for the Belgian Presidency of the European Union is to ensure that the Nature Restoration Law is adopted before the end of its mandate in June. Failure to do so would not only be a major setback for the EU’s own ambitions to lead global action on the triple crisis of climate, biodiversity loss and pollution – it would also send a devastating message about the bloc’s lack of respect for its own democratic decision-making process.

In November 2023, under the Spanish Presidency, negotiations between the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission reached an agreement on the Nature Directives. This agreement left only the supposedly formal acts of adoption by the Parliament (which took place at the end of February) and the Council, scheduled originally for Monday 25 March.

However, in the week leading up to this date, last-minute political pressure from political forces seeking to block any effort to secure resilient ecosystems led to the surprise announcement by Hungary in the preparatory meetings for this Council meeting that it had radically changed its previous position of support for the law to outright opposition. Subsequently, Sweden, Poland, the Netherlands and Italy announced that they would also vote against the agreement, and Belgium, Austria and Finland that they would abstain. As a result, despite the support of the other 19 EU member states, there is currently not a qualified majority to take the legislation forward. The issue has been removed from the agenda of the EU Environment Council and postponed indefinitely.

Faced with the serious decline of biodiversity in the EU, officially recognised by all European institutions, the European Commission launched a proposal for a Nature Restoration Law in June 2022. Its threefold objective is to

  1. contribute to the long-term recovery of damaged nature in all EU terrestrial and marine areas (specifically, to restore 20% of damaged terrestrial and marine ecosystems in the European Union by 2030 and almost all of them by 2050),
  2. meet the EU’s climate and biodiversity targets, and
  3. comply with the EU’s international commitments, in particular the UN’s Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework.

According to the Commission, the new legislation would bring significant economic benefits, with at least €8 in benefits for every euro invested.

Nothing less than the EU’s credibility and international standing is at stake in this critical European election year. Failure to adopt the Nature Restoration Law will not only undermine the EU’s commitment to environmental protection, but will also jeopardise the EU’s decision-making processes on other crucial dossiers, such as the achievement of its ambitious climate targets and its preparedness to deal with impending climate-related disasters.

OceanCare strongly condemns the despicable political manoeuvring, driven mainly by right wing parties and governments, to undermine the EU’s legislative efforts to effectively protect and restore nature. The international marine conservation organisation calls on the Belgian Presidency and the European Commission to urgently prevent the EU from being discredited and to ensure the adoption of the Nature Directive in the agreed form before the summer break.